I am very excited to be partnering with the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute, part of the University of Miami health system, to bring you a 5-part series of sponsored posts on youth sports injuries. UHealth is paying me for these posts because they believe strongly in the importance of a safe youth sports experience for every young athlete.
No sports parent likes to think about their child getting injured, but ignoring the problem does not make it go away. In fact, the more parents understand potential injuries, the better they can help prevent them. And because total prevention is not necessary, parents should also be aware of treatment and recovery.
Last month, I talked about overuse injuries in young athletes and this month, I’m going to give an overview of ACL injuries.
I don’t know much about ACL injuries because I never faced them as a sports mom, but whenever I heard of an athlete suffering from one, I always assumed that the injury was a very serious one. I decided to do a little research and here’s what I’ve learned.
What is an ACL Tear?
An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — one of the major ligaments in your knee. ACL injuries most commonly occur during sports that involve sudden stops, jumping or changes in direction — such as basketball, soccer, football, tennis, downhill skiing, volleyball and gymnastics.
ACL Injuries are on the Rise
In the study “ACL Tears in School-Aged Children and Adolescents Over 20 Years,” (Beck NA, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 22, 2017), it states that “the rate of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears among children and teens has been increasing about 2.3% per year for the past two decades. Researchers reviewed insurance billing data on children ages 6-18 years from 1994-2013 and found that on average, ACL tears occurred at a rate of 121 per 100,000 persons.”
Why is this?
Researchers agree that one cause is the year-round sports specialization that is occurring in kids at an earlier age. Instead of getting cross-training from multiple sports and using different muscle groups, kids are doing the same thing over and over. This leads to fatigue and an increased potential for injury, including ACL injury.
Another cause could also be that youth athletes play more intensely than 20 years ago, which can also add to the risk of injury
ACL Injuries are More Common in Females
Recent studies reveal that young female athletes are four to six times more likely than boys to suffer a serious non-contact ACL injury. According to Momsteam.com girls are 8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than boys and at the age of 14 years, girls have 5 times higher rates of ACL tears than boys.
There’s no easy answer as to why females are more likely to get ACL injuries than males, but it’s likely because of a number of anatomical and hormonal differences between the two.
ACL Injuries are Less Common in Young Children
Although ACL injury prevention in the young children is not easy, it does begin by teaching good healthy habits regarding exercise and sports performance. Your child should start early building a good foundation of fitness and muscle building.
How Serious are ACL Injuries?
In the short-term, ACL injuries generally require six months’ to a year’s worth of hard recovery work before going back to sports. And even then it takes longer to get back to full form.
In the long-term, ACL injuries are serious because even if an athlete recovers well, there is a higher risk of developing arthritis in the injured knee.
Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, treatment includes rest and rehabilitation exercises to regain strength and stability. Some patients require surgery to replace the torn ligament followed by rehab.
How Can ACL Injuries Be Prevented?
One of the best preventions is using logic and common sense when it comes to your child’s sports schedule. UHealth has come up with some specific steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk of injury.
In addition to their advice, be sure your child:
- Always warms up before playing.
- Stretches for thighs, calves, and hips, and any other areas that are tight.
- Strengthens his hips and thighs. They provide support to knees. Squats and lunges are just a couple of exercises that can build strength. Make sure to use good technique.
- Works on balance. Many injuries occur when an athlete is off-balance. Stability will pay off on the playing field.
- Works on exercises that increase agility and the ability to change direction.
- Works on exercise that focus on jumping and landing safely.
- RESTS! Don’t let a packed schedule of practices, games, and schoolwork leave your child so tired that her technique gets sloppy. Adequate sleep, rest days, and alternating hard workouts will reduce your child’s risk of injury and making her a stronger athlete.
Parents, please heed this advice from UHealth: Don’t ever allow your child to play through pain. If you suspect they’ve suffered a sports injury, get medical care immediately. The faster these injuries are treated, the better the prognosis for a full recovery, and a lifetime of fun and wellness.