Study: Young female athletes at higher knee injury risk

Knee with an ACL scar (Credit: KMOV)

It’s back to school time which also means the start of fall sports but doctors in St. Louis are warning young athletes to be careful because they are seeing a rise in injuries in girls.

“Adolescent females are at a higher risk of ACL tears and that seems to have really increased over the last decade, compared to their counterpart on the male side,” said Dr. Jeff Nepple, a Washington University sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Nepple said a recent study supports what they have seen in the clinic for years. According to Reuters Health, 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. However, for teen girls, that number jumped to 59 percent.

A young athlete in Illinois understands the issue all too well. During a routine jump in a volleyball game her junior year, Keely Smith, now a senior at South Central High School, came down wrong.

“It was a pop and it hurt like pretty bad,” said Smith. “The most pain I’ve ever felt.”

Smith plays two of the sports that doctors said are prone to ACL tears: Basketball and volleyball. Soccer is the other sport in which they often see these injuries.

“It’s just doing what I love and taking that away was very difficult for the first couple of months,” said Smith.

The increased risk comes with a new athletic environment. In a post, Title IX World stated there are simply more girls playing sports, plus sports are becoming more competitive and specialized.

“When you are specializing in a sport at a young age, certain sports require certain muscle groups much more than others so we have a tendency to become developed in a way that we are very dominate in some muscle groups and weak in others and I think that leads to problems in overuse injuries and some of these more acute injuries, where we don’t’ have the well-balanced athlete like we used to have when they’re playing multiple sports,” said Dr. Nepple.

He added that bio mechanics also play a role.

“Literature has shown us when individuals cut and land with a movement pattern where their knees collapse inward, that is clearly associated with a risk of injury,” said Dr. Nepple.

He said nearly half of these knee injuries are preventable.

“There is good science out there that show programs that help reeducate the neuromuscular movement pattern in young athletes can prevent a good portion,” said Dr. Nepple.

Now cleared to play her senior year, Smith has tweaked her own approach to sports.

“I’ll go as hard as I usually did, I’ll just be more cautious,” said Smith.

Injuries like this and a push to prevent them are a major reason why St. Louis Children’s Hospital officials say adolescent females make up the biggest segment of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital injury prevention programs.

Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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