A new report states that young athletes are more susceptible to serious and potentially debilitating knee injuries.
An increasing number of American children and teens are tearing up their knees, particularly kids who are involved in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball and gymnastics. The most dangerous injury is a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which provides stability to the knee.
Specific types of training can reduce the risk of an ACL tear by as much as 72 percent, the report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says.
"Neuromuscular training programs strengthen lower-extremity muscles, improve core stability and teach athletes how to avoid unsafe knee positions," lead author Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical director and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and a member of the academy's council on sports medicine and fitness, said in an academy news release.
The AAP recommends that coaches who run these types of sports programs should learn more about the exercises that can help athletes strengthen their muscles and encourage their athletes to use them.
The risk of ACL injury among young athletes increases at age 12 for girls and age 14 for boys. The largest numbers of ACL injuries occur in female athletes ages 15 to 20. After an ACL tear, girls are much more likely to have surgery and less likely to return to sports than boys, experts said.
"After puberty, girls have a 'machine motor mismatch,'" report co-author Timothy Hewett, professor and director of research at Ohio State University's sports medicine department, said in the news release. "In contrast, boys get even more powerful relative to their body size after their growth spurt. The good news is that we've shown that with neuromuscular training, we can boost the power of girls' neuromuscular engine, and reduce their risk of ACL injuries."
Before some of the newer less-invasive surgical treatments were available, surgery was often delayed until the child’s skeletal structure was fully mature. Now though, improved treatment can avoid impact to the developing growth plates, which means that they can have surgery to stabilize the knee.
Overall, ACL surgery is about 90 percent successful in restoring knee stability, according to the report published online April 28 and in the May print issue of Pediatrics.
"In many cases, surgery plus rehabilitation can safely return the athlete back to sports in about nine months," report co-author Dr. William Hennrikus, professor of pediatric orthopedic surgery at Penn State Hershey Bone and Joint Institute, said in the news release. "Parents who are considering surgery for their child should seek out a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with sports medicine training."
ACL tears can have long-lasting effects. People who suffer an ACL tear are up to 10 times more likely to develop early-onset degenerative knee osteoarthritis, which can lead to chronic pain and disability, the report said. "This is important, because it means athletes who suffer an ACL tear at age 13 are likely to face chronic pain in their 20s and 30s," LaBella said.
If your child participates in any of these sports, check with your child’s coach to see if they are providing the appropriate amount of muscle strengthening exercises to fortify your child’s knee support system.
If you feel they are not getting any or enough of these needed exercises, consider enrolling your child in a muscle strengthening exercise program or begin doing them together at home.