An uneven playing field

Playing sports and exercising helps kids become fit and healthier. Young athletes may be subject to injuries that can cause long-term damage. One injury—the ACL tear—is on the rise, especially among girls.

ACL injuries are damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. The ACL is one of four ligaments that keep the knee from wobbling or giving out when you move. It’s often injured during sports that involve starting, stopping, pivoting and turning with speed, such as:

  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Football
  • Field hockey
  • Skiing
  • Lacrosse

A bigger gamble for girls

Girls are four to six times more likely to injure their ACLs than boys, according to John Polousky, MD, orthopedic surgeon.

“It’s almost reaching epidemic proportions,” Dr. Polousky said. “We don’t know exactly why it’s happening, but there are a variety of factors including anatomy, muscle strength, coordination and hormonal differences.”

A child’s ACL tear is more difficult to treat than an adult’s, Dr. Polousky said. This is because surgeons must avoid injuring the growth plates on children’s bones above and below the knee.

If surgery is performed, the child will be on crutches for about a week and will need physical therapy. Children can typically resume some activities within one to two months.

Knee know-how

ACL injury prevention programs focus on changing the way athletes train. Children can practice stopping and starting while keeping their knees straight over their feet and practice pivoting inwards while bringing their feet with them.