The Soccer Mom's Ultimate Guide to Preventing ACL Tears in Kids

Christopher C. Dodson, MD September 19th, 2014

It’s that dreaded injury. It’s the infamous popping noise that often debilitates even professional athletes, who are in peak physical condition and who have access to the best sports medicine doctors in the nation. It’s an ACL tear and it’s serious because the anterior cruciate ligament is one of four major ligaments that keep the knee joint strong, stable and mobile. Professional athletes certainly need their ACLs functioning properly, but so do the rest of us! And if an ACL tear can keep a pro off the playing field for months, imagine what it can do to a child.

ACL tears in kids often occur while children are participating in sports or activities that require running, pivoting and jumping. Common settings for the injury include the basketball court, soccer field, tennis court or football field. However, kids can tear the ACL while they are out running on the playground or jumping rope during recess.

The Ultimate Guide to Preventing ACL Tears in Kids
As the parent of an active child, it is important that you remain aware of the potential for this injury and learn how to prevent it as much as possible.

Understand the Risk
First thing’s first. Simply being aware is a step in the right direction. Many parents are still convinced that ACL injuries only happen to adults, but that is simply not true. In fact, in the past couple of decades, ACL tears in kids have been on the rise. Kids are getting involved in competitive sports sooner and putting stress on their knees at an earlier age - and the statistics are proving it.

And keep in mind that girls are nearly six times more likely to tear their ACL. There are several theories as to why this is the case. Some believe that the phenomenon is related to the way girls land their jumps. Others will point to an imbalance between the front and back leg muscles or even the possibility that the wider skeletal structure of the hips playing a role in putting extra strain on the knees. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to know that your kids - and especially your girls - are not exempt from the risk of tearing the anterior cruciate ligament.

Mix Up the Activities
Overuse is one of the main causes of ACL injuries in patients of any age. While it traditionally has been older athletes that experience the negative consequences of doing the same movements over and over for years at a time, children are now facing the same issue. Kids now grow up playing a particular sport and with the rise of club and travel teams, many kids play their sport nearly year round! While this trend may be producing better skilled young athletes, it is also part of the reason that ACL tears in kids are becoming more common.

Since kids who participate primarily in one sport are more prone to ACL injury, consider making an intentional effort to involve your child in several different kinds of activities. This doesn’t mean the child can’t still have their primary sport, but it is important for kids to maintain a balanced, active lifestyle as their bones and muscles are developing. Simply diversifying the activities can prevent premature overuse injuries.

Encourage Warm Up Exercises
With the rise of highly organized, highly competitive sports for children has come the decline of the more traditional venues for kids’ activities. Fewer children are hanging out at the local playground because they are busy with club soccer practices 3 nights per week. There are certainly many benefits to this new trend. However, one of the disadvantages is that kids are no longer performing the basic and common exercises that they once did.

Exercises that involve simple jumping and stretching can simulate the kind of movement that is often missing from kids’ repertoire of activity. Before they begin any technical or sport-specific training, encourage your child to take 10 minutes to complete some warm up exercises that will strengthen and stabilize the knees and prevent the possibility of a pediatric ACL tear.

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