ACL Injuries Up 400 Percent in Young Athletes

Doctors recommend young athletes not train like professionals

By Marc Fein
|  Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012  |  Updated 11:55 AM CDT
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Doctors in North Texas have noticed a trend in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in teens and adolescents over the last 10 years.

Marc Fein, NBC 5 News

Doctors in North Texas have noticed a trend in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in teens and adolescents over the last 10 years.

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Whether your child plays football, soccer, volleyball or track, their passion for the game could be setting the stage for a serious injury.  Doctors in Philadelphia noticed a 400 percent increase in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in teens and adolescents over the last 10 years.

The ACL is the most important of the four ligaments that connect the bones of the knee joint in order to provide stabilization during normal and athletic activities.

A tear to the ACL could end a young athletes career before it begins.

Doctors in North Texas said the ACL problem isn't unique to Philadelphia and they think they know why.

Andrew Timmons is a high school soccer player and currently in the final stages of recovering from an ACL surgery. Timmons said he's already had a long career, "I started when I was six.  There were two seasons outdoor, so 24 seasons of outdoor plus multiple indoor seasons.  At practices, we have three or four, Docwe have two games and our practices are two or three hours each."

All of that, plus his current high school team runs at least two miles a couple of times per week.

Dr. David Gray is the director of orthopedics at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, and he said the problem is that this kind of routine is becoming more and more common in younger athletes.

"There is a lot of pressure in the select world to play one sport, year 'round, and you get a lot of repetitive trauma and use the same muscles over and over and your more prone to injuries in general."

T.O. Souryal with Texas Sports Medicine is the head team physician for the Dallas Mavericks.  As one of the countries utmost authorities on ACL injuries, he agrees, today's youth athlete is overdoing it.

Souryal said the epidemic in sports medicine right now is in pre-teens.

"I think it's multifactorial, but primarily, because kids are playing too much.  It's a year round, multi sports, there is never time to rest," said Souryal.

Doctors said the injury is even more serious for younger patients like Cassius Bettinger, who tore his ACL when he was 8. Because of issues with the growth plates in the knee, doctors are forced to come up with new ways to operate on younger children.

Still, you'd obviously like to avoid having a kid get hurt to begin with and that's where coaches and parents come in.

Gray said, "One of the things we'd like to see is children play more than one sport.  There should be some breaks and you have different activities, so you're using different muscles."

Souryal adds, "The performance clinics are good. Kids need to learn how to run properly and how to lift weights properly, but just like anything, excess is bad. I think it's always smart to have a break. Your body needs a break, your mind needs a break. A two or three month break is a wonderful prescription.

Doctors said the bottom line is that if we train our kids the same way coaches train professional athletes, our kids are going to get the same injuries as those professional athletes.
 

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