Why kids with ACL injuries need special treatment

It’s already been a tough spring for the Brewers, with two players lost for the season to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Knee injuries are just as frustrating for young athletes. One of the first things my patients often say to me is, “When can I play again?”

The ACL is the ligament that helps keep the knee stable. It’s one of the four main ligaments in the knee joint that connect it to the shin bone, known as the tibia, and thigh bone, known as the femur. It’s located in the knee joint, behind the kneecap.

I see a lot of young athletes with ACL injuries, and many are younger than you’d think. Would you believe I’ve done an ACL reconstruction on a patient as young as 8 years old? These days, kids are more active in team sports, especially contact sports, and that’s a big reason why ACL injuries are happening more often.

ACL injuries are most common in sports like soccer, football and basketball, where young athletes are stopping or changing direction quickly. These injuries actually are four times more common in girls than boys, because they have a natural tendency to jump and land with their knees pointed in.

One of the biggest challenges with ACL injuries in young athletes is the fact that kids are still growing and developing. This means that their growth plates, the parts of their bones that help them grow taller, are still open.

As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, I know these injuries need very careful treatment. If your young athlete’s injury is mild, he or she might only need physical therapy to bring back motion in the knee and strengthen the muscles around it. If surgery is needed, my goal is to make the knee stable with the least possible risk of affecting his or her growth. Kids also need physical therapy before and after surgery to strengthen the muscles, and a special brace to protect the knee while it’s healing.

To learn more about surgery options for ACL injuries, check out this short video I recorded:

I want to be sure your kids are safe and healthy, and back to sports as soon as possible. It may be hard to watch from the sidelines, but with a little patience, your young athlete will be back in the game.

I encourage you to visit our website to watch additional ACL videos and to learn more about ACL injuries.

Scott Van Valin, MD~ Scott Van Valin, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

The Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only program in Milwaukee and Wisconsin that is just for young athletes. Our goal is to make sure your kids are healthy—and can get back to the activities they enjoy—as soon as possible. We work closely with parents, coaches and other specialists to provide care plans that fit each child’s specific needs.

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