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Repair ACL Injuries in Young Athletes Quickly
Date:7/14/2009

Postponing surgery can lead to more problems, study finds

TUESDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- New research confirms what many orthopedists have long suspected -- it's better to operate quickly on a young athlete's ACL injury than it is to wait a few years for the child to grow some more.

"The gold standard has moved," said study co-author Dr. Theodore J. Ganley. "If we have a message, it's to treat these injuries when they occur."

Athletes of all ages commonly tear the anterior cruciate ligament, better known as the ACL, that helps to anchor the knee. The piece of tissue "prevents the lower leg from gliding forward, preventing forward motion of the tibia on the femur," explained Dr. Lyle Micheli, a professor of orthopedic sports medicine at Harvard Medical School.

A variety of activities that require athletes to jump or pivot can cause the ACL to tear. "In the 1950s, it was a guy's football injury," said Ganley, director of the Sports Medicine and Performance Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Now it shows up in soccer, basketball, volleyball."

Young female athletes are especially prone to injury. "Since the early 1970s, there's been a thousand-fold increase in participation for females in organized sports. It's been shown that the girls have somewhere between a two- and eight-fold higher risk of sustaining ACL injuries compared to males," Ganley said.

An ACL tear can lead to a cascade of other problems, including ligament tears around the knee.

In the past, surgeons chose to wait to repair ACL injuries if athletes were under age 15. The theory was that they should wait a few years until a child's bones had more time to grow. "We'd think, we don't want to drill through the [bone] growth plates, it's too risky," Micheli said.

But some orthopedists challenged the prevailing assumptions and performed such surgery on children aged 14 and under. The new study sug
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