Young Athletes with ACL Injury are at Risk for Arthritis
Many young athletes who undergo ACL reconstruction can develop knee arthritis, which puts them at risk of early knee replacement and a less-active lifestyle.
How Does an ACL Injury Occur?
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a tear in one of the knee ligaments that joins the bottom of the thighbone (femur) to the top of the shinbone (tibia). A ligament is a tough, flexible band of tissue that holds bones and cartilage together, and the ACL keeps the knee stable.
An ACL tear often happens when the foot is firmly placed on the ground and a force suddenly hits the knee while the leg is slightly bent or straight. For example, it can occur when landing from a jump, changing direction rapidly or slowing down when running. An ACL tear can accelerate arthritis development because the injury damages the knee’s cartilage and surrounding tissues.
Exercises that Build Knee Strength Can Prevent Arthritis
An ACL tear can accelerate arthritis development because the injury damages the knee’s cartilage and surrounding tissues. However, with good therapy, patients with ACL injuries can delay or even prevent knee arthritis.
A study at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, found that long-term physical therapy focused on strength and functional goals produced more favorable outcomes than therapy that adhered to a set timeline. Researchers discovered most patients stopped physical therapy about six months to one year after knee surgery, but this is too soon.
During therapy, building knee strength through jumping, heavy leg weights and agility training is essential. Utilizing exercises that support previous injuries and strengthen joints, the knee can continue to function well without the onset of arthritis.
“Exercise therapy and education is how we treat older people with arthritis, but researchers had never asked whether similar interventions could work for young people,” said Brooke Patterson, PhD, who led the study. “Almost every person who completed our new program said they had less pain and better quality of life” (Medical Xpress).
ACL Injuries Are Steadily Increasing
The incidence of ACL injury is on the rise as teen sports participation increases, and a new study by UCLA Health shows that girls are “more than twice as likely” to experience an ACL injury than boys.
There are many possible reasons that more young athletes are tearing their ACLs:
- Skeletal immaturity and reduced knee strength. Young athletes feel pressure to focus on one sport and play all year round. Because their bodies are not fully developed, the knees are not strong enough to withstand the impact.
- Improper stretching and preparation. Athletes must take time to prepare for high-intensity activity long before taking the field properly.
- Inadequate healing time after injury. An ACL tear is the most common knee injury, and many injuries happen because athletes return too quickly.
- Insufficient rest. Without enough rest, proper hydration and nutrition, young athletes increase their risk of injury or re-injury.
Call Your Orthopedist to Manage Joint Pain
April is National Youth Sports Safety Month. Are you or a family member experiencing chronic knee pain? It may be time to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist. Your orthopedist can create a customized treatment plan to strengthen your knee and prevent further injury. If your injury requires a surgical procedure, your doctor will thoroughly explain the details at your appointment.