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Knee injuries on the rise in young athletes

Are all those fields filled with pint-sized soccer players a breeding ground for injury? Is our parental passion for helping our kids become track, football and volleyball stars putting them at risk of knee injury? Those are some of the tough questions parents and coaches need to ask in the wake of a startling study from researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia showing that sports-related knee injuries in children and adolescents have increased over 400% in the last decade.
In the study entitled, “Knee Injuries In Children and Adolescents: Has There Been An Increase In ACL and Meniscus Tears In Recent Years?”, researchers reviewed billing records of patients under age 18 treated for tibial spine fractures, ACL and meniscal tears, at a large academic children’s hospital from 1999 through 2011. Over that time period, ACL tears increased by 11.35 injuries per year and meniscus tears increased by 13.95 injuries per year. However, tibial spine fractures, which are thought to be caused by a similar mechanism as ACL tears, only jumped by 1.07 injuries per year.
The exact cause of this growth in sports-related knee injuries is unclear. Among the possible explanations given in the study are increased diagnosis, earlier referral and more aggressive treatment. However, “the high-level, year-round, young-age specialized (sports) competition has been cited as one cause for the increase,” said lead study author J. Todd Lawrence, MD, PhD.
“The implications of ACL tears and meniscus tears in children and adolescents are significantly greater than the same injuries in adults,” said Dr. Lawrence. “While we are never going to prevent all injuries, there is good evidence, particularly for some sports like soccer, that sports injury prevention programs can go a long way towards reducing them.”
With the prospect of our kids facing painful and complex reconstruction procedures, long recoveries, and the risk of re-injury, it appears prevention must become a higher priority in youth sports programs.