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Knee injuries in child athletes are preventable

More children across New Jersey and the country are suffering knee injuries playing youth sports. That’s according to a number of pediatricians in the journal Pediatrics who wrote that there has been a spike in injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. 

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The increase is even greater in female athletes, who suffer two to eight times more ACL injuries than boys in similar sports — all the more reason young athletes should consider additional training to strengthen legs, hips and muscles around the knee.

“Kids are starting to do sports and specialize in sports at a much younger age,” said Dr. Heather Harnly, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “They are playing year-round and unfortunately, our American system of sports emphasizes competition and children are more likely to get injured in game situations than practice situations. They have longer seasons, they’re training harder, they’re specializing earlier and with more exposure comes more risk.”

When it comes to ACL injuries, the numbers are fairly equal between boys and girls in sports played mostly by boys, such as football. However, when broken down into sports that both boys and girls play, there is a much higher incidence of injuries in girls.

“We don’t have just one reason for that,” Harnly said. “It’s a combination of reasons: differences in overall strength, differences in the way our bodies are built, differences in terms of hormones and different factors.”

So, what is a parent to do? Harnly recommends neuromuscular training, which can teach proper techniques when it comes to landing, jumping and recognizing risky maneuvers.

“It’s also important to strengthen the muscles around the legs, knees and hips to help prevent injury,” she said. “Unfortunately, once someone has injured one knee, they do have a pretty high risk of injuring that knee all over again and maybe even the opposite knee as well.”

 

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