A study in Pediatrics highlights the increased frequency of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear injuries among 6- to 18-year-olds in the United States.
Researchers estimate that the incidence has been steadily rising more than 2% per year over the last 2 decades—especially among girls.
In the study, co-author Dr Marc Tompkins—assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Minnesota—and his team studied insurance billing data for patients ages 6 to 18 from 1994 to 2013. They suggest that girls of all ages experienced a significant increase in the incidence of ACL tears over the last 20 years. In boys, however, only those aged 15 to 16 showed such an increase, notes a media release from HealthDay, part of MedlinePlus.
Although the researchers didn’t look into exactly why ACL tears are on the rise, Tompkins says in the release that, “one potential cause is the year-round sports specialization that is occurring in kids at an earlier age.”
Instead of cross training in multiple sports and therefore using different muscle groups, kids are performing the same activity over and over, Tompkins explains in the release. This could lead to fatigue and increased potential for injury.
“Another potential cause is that children as athletes play with more intensity and force than 20 years ago, which may put the body at increased risk of injury,” he adds.
Other reasons could be that more girls are playing sports, which could affect injury rates, the study’s authors state. It’s also possible that rates are up “because we are getting better as a medical community at diagnosing ACL injury,” Tompkins suggests.
The riskiest sports for ACL injuries are those that involve cutting or pivoting, such as soccer and basketball. Other sports with risks for ACL injuries are football, and even tennis and volleyball.
Dr Stephen Swirsky—an orthopedic surgeon at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami—suggests in the release that, “kids need to be on a flexibility and stretching program. The more flexible they are, the less likely they are to have an injury.”
However, if an ACL tear occurs, Swirsky recommends a comprehensive rehab program postsurgery, accompanied by advice for reducing the risk of injury when the child returns to play.