School & District Management

Studies Examine Crippling Impact of ACL Injuries in Youth Athletes

By Bryan Toporek — February 14, 2012 2 min read
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At the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day this past Saturday, two separate teams of researchers presented studies about how anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in youth athletes could hinder or end their sports careers.

One study, based out of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, examined how often youth football players returned to the field after suffering ACL injuries. Based on their findings, the authors asserted that fewer football players may be resuming their careers than might otherwise be expected.

The researchers contacted 145 football players who suffered ACL injuries about whether they ever resumed their athletic careers. Of the 145 surveyed, 96 players were considered eligible for the study—68 high school players and 28 college players.

In total, 62 percent of the high school athletes in the study returned from their ACL injuries and resumed their career. However, 29 percent of those players said they never returned to their pre-injury level of performance. (For the sake of comparison, 42 percent said they did fully recover and return to their pre-injury level.)

Another 29 percent of the high school players never returned from their ACL injuries. More than half of them listed fear as a reason they decided against playing again.

“While return to play may be perceived as the central concern for a competitive athlete recovering from an injury, it is easy to ignore psychological factors keeping a player off the field,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Kurt P. Spindler."Fear of re-injury and concern over decreased performance may hinder even the most physically capable athlete.”

Overall, between college and high school, the return to play rate after undergoing an ACL reconstruction was roughly 64 percent, according to the study.

A second study presented at Specialty Day focused on the importance of scheduling reconstructive surgery soon after a youth athlete suffers an ACL tear.

The study suggests that youth athletes who wait to undergo ACL reconstruction 150 days or more after their injury are significantly more likely to suffer another knee injury later.

“In our research, children who had delayed treatment of an ACL injury more than 150 days, tended to have an increased chance of also having a medial meniscus or chondral injury in their knee,” said lead researcher, Dr. Guillaume D. Dumont of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “These additional injuries may increase recovery time, inhibit return to play, and worsen long-term functional outcomes of the knee.”

Recent research suggests that there’s been a dramatic increase in the rate of ACL injuries in youth athletes over the past decade, at least partially attributable to the growth of year-round sports programs.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.