Feedback
Health

Girl Athletes Need Training to Protect Knees, Doctors Advise

More kids are tearing up their knees playing sports, pediatricians said Monday, and they have some advice for parents: consider extra training for your young athletes.

There’s been a rise in diagnoses of a specific injury to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, a team of experts writes in the journal Pediatrics.

The increase is particularly dramatic in girls who play high school soccer, basketball, volleyball and in gymnasts, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Girls suffer two to six times more ACL injuries than boys in similar sports, and are more likely to have surgery than boys, the group says.

But special training can help strengthen the muscles and help the student athlete develop habits that can prevent injury, the pediatricians found.

"Neuromuscular training programs strengthen lower extremity muscles, improve core stability, and teach athletes how to avoid unsafe knee positions," said Dr. Cynthia LaBella of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, who led the team that wrote the report.

Girls are at higher risk of ACL injury because as they grow after puberty, they don’t gain much more muscle power, said Timothy Hewett, an expert in ACL injuries at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and a member of the team that wrote the report.

“After puberty, girls have a ‘machine motor mismatch,’” Hewett said. “In contrast, boys get even more powerful relative to their body size after their growth spurt. “

An ACL injury is no joke.

“An ACL injury at an early age is a life-changing event. In addition to surgery and many months of rehabilitation, the treatment costs can be substantial ($17,000–$25,000 per injury), and the time lost from school and sports participation can have considerable effects on the athlete’s mental health and academic performance,” LaBella’s team wrote.

And a 13-year-old girl with an ACL tear may suffer chronic pain into her 20s or even 30s, LaBella said.

But the injuries can be prevented with specialized training. “Plyometric training combined with technique training and feedback to athletes regarding proper form were the common components of programs that effectively reduced ACL injury rates,” they wrote.

The AAP points parents and coaches to its Council on Sports Medicine for tips.