Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: ACL Injuries

Courtney: We hear about ACL injuries in the knees of professional athletes, but statistics show that they are becoming more and more common in kids. Today we are going to be talking about these injuries and the risk to children. What is the ACL?

Dr. Arnold: ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament. It connects the thighbone to the shinbone in the knee joint and helps stabilize the knee.

Courtney: Why are these injuries becoming more common?

Dr. Arnold: More kids are playing sports, and they are starting intensive training at younger ages. ACL tears are also being diagnosed more often due to increased awareness and diagnostic tests such as MRI.

Courtney: Which kids are more likely to get these injuries?

Dr. Arnold: ACL injuries are uncommon in young kids, but the rates increase dramatically during puberty. Girls have higher rates of noncontact ACL injuries than boys for similar sports. Football, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics are some of the more common sports where these injuries occur.

Courtney: How do these ACL tears affect the child’s health in the future?

Dr. Arnold: Besides missing school and sports for treatment of the injury, as well as the financial cost of care, ACL tears can have significant impact years later. The risk of early onset degenerative arthritis of the knee is up to 10 times greater for people with a previous ACL tear. Arthritis can cause pain and disability.

Courtney: What if the child has reconstructive surgery?

Dr. Arnold: Even after surgery, the increased risk of arthritis still exists. The risk for future ACL injuries is also higher, once you’ve already had a previous ACL tear.

Young female athletes in jumping, pivoting, and collision sports are at higher risk. Neuromuscular training programs have been shown to help reduce the risk of injury in these young women. They are a series of exercises to strengthen key muscles that protect knees before an injury occurs. Basically the idea is to “pre-program” safer movement patterns to reduce the risk of injury. Current data suggests that just wearing a brace is unlikely to reduce the risk of ACL injury.

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