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Knee Surgeries Increasing for Female Teen Athletes

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In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act was passed. The law requires educational institutions to maintain policies, practices and programs that do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender. 

Young women and girls were given the opportunity to equally participate in school sports programs and receive athletic scholarship money proportional to their participation.

It was a monumental advancement for young girls and women, but along with opportunity came injuries.

A growing number of teenage girls are joining their male counterparts on the operating table to repair torn knee ligaments, according to a new study.

Researchers focused on surgery for a common knee injury known as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, which has long been linked to intense participation in sports like basketball and soccer which require constant pivoting as well as contact sports like football.

The study of private insurance data for 148 million U.S. residents found that overall, the average annual ACL surgery rate climbed 22 percent from 2002 to 2014, when it reached 75 procedures for every 100,000 people.

For teen girls, however, the average annual knee surgery rate rose by 59 percent during the study period to 269 procedures for every 100,000 people. 

“Although there are proven ACL injury prevention programs available, they are not being widely adopted, particularly among young women,” said lead study author Mackenzie Herzog of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study didn’t focus on why the injuries are happening, but Herzog noted a few reasons why he thinks the increase in injuries might be happening in youth sports.

“Two particular trends that concern us are increased trends toward year-round sports participation at a young age and the tendency to specialize in one sport early,” Herzog said.

For teen boys, the average annual knee surgery rate climbed 44 percent during the study period to end at 212 procedures for every 100,000 people, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics. 

Surgery rates also rose faster for women than for men, although adult male athletes still had more procedures. By the end of the study, 87 men and 61 women out of every 100,000 people had ACL surgery each year.

In an email to Reuters, Dr. Devin Peterson, a researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who wasn’t involved in the study, said cross-training programs that include exercises to improve strength, balance, coordination and muscle control could help prevent ACL tears.

Pediatric sports medicine expert R. Jay Lee, offers these tips and more from the Johns Hopkins Medicine website:

Get a preseason physical. A preseason or back-to-school physical is a great way to determine if your young athlete is fit to play. “Sports physicals help assess any areas of concern for athletes before they start an activity, and in turn keeps them from further injuring themselves during play if a condition is present and needs to be treated,” says Dr. Lee.

Encourage cross training and a variety of sports. “I see kids today who play on two baseball or lacrosse teams on the same day or throughout the week and year. But it’s important for athletes to change the sports or activities they are doing so they are not continuously putting stress on the same muscles and joints,” warns Dr. Lee. Parents should consider limiting the number of teams their athlete is on at any given time and changing up the routine regularly so that the same muscles are not continuously overused.

Warm up before the sports activity. Stretching is an important prevention technique that should become habit for all athletes before starting an activity or sport. Dr. Lee suggests a mix of both static and dynamic stretching during warmups to help loosen the muscles and prepare them for play. Toe touches and stretches, where you hold the position for a certain amount of time, are considered static, while jumping jacks and stretches, where the body continues to move during stretching, are considered dynamic.

Make sure the proper equipment is used. Protective equipment, like helmets, pads and shoes, are very important for injury prevention. Parents should talk with coaches before the season starts so that they have adequate time to properly outfit their child before practices begin.

Recognize injury and get help quickly.  “I’ve seen a number of young athletes who have serious injuries and didn’t do anything about them, and now the damage has progressed,” Dr. Lee warns. “We need to get these kids in to see a doctor earlier to keep this from happening.”

If parents notice that there is a change in their athlete’s technique, such as a limp when running, throwing differently or rubbing a leg during activity, they should pull the athlete out of play. If the problem persists, parents should seek an assessment for their child prior to returning to the activity.

Dr. Lee warns: “Athletes will alter the way they do things because of pain, but then they can end up with a more serious injury because of it.”

Story sources:  Lisa Rapaport, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-acl-surgeries-girls-idUSKBN1952SE

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/articles-and-answers/prevention/10-tips-for-preventing-sports-injuries-in-kids-and-teens

 

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