ACL Tears – The Rising Epidemic

As the number of injured students seems to rise day-by-day at Payton, leg injuries are the most common. There is a high proportion of sprained or broken ankles; knee injuries are also prominent amongst the walking wounded. The knee injuries that have occurred are the result of tears that require surgery to repair. The most serious among these injuries is the ACL tear.

The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is located in the middle of the knee underneath the kneecap. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that can either hold a joint together or connect two bones. This particular ligament is used to prevent the shin bone from sliding in front of the thigh bone, as well as controlling about 90% of the stability in the knee along with the PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament). The ACL also affects other muscles in the region, including the quadriceps, hips, and hamstrings.

This ligament can be damaged in a variety of ways. Injuries can occur through overextension of the knee joint, violent hits to the side of the knee, and changes in direction after a sudden stop from running, jumping, or turning. When people do tear their ACL, early symptoms include swelling, a “popping” sound, and pain especially when trying to support weight. Due to the extremity of these occurrences, ACL tears are mainly found in athletes, particularly those who play basketball, football, soccer, skiing, or gymnastics. More of these injuries occur in males, however, females are more prone due to physical differences. According to a study done by the NCAA, women are approximately six times more likely to have an ACL injury while they are playing sports.

Because ligaments are unable to repair themselves, ACL tears need to be surgically repaired. Patients can choose not to get surgery and, through physical therapy, can return the condition of their knee close to a pre-surgery state. Those who do choose surgery may choose from three different operations: the allograft (ACL from a cadaver), the hamstring, or the patellar tendon (located along the front of the kneecap). The allograft isn’t a very popular choice amongst patients but has the fastest post-surgery recovery time. The hamstring and patellar tendon each have longer recovery times since the patient has to have therapy on both their ACL and where the graft is from the repair but the success rate is typically higher with these options. Patellar tendon surgery has usually been the common choice amongst athletes, recently including Adrian Peterson and Derrick Rose.

David Tekien ‘14, who also picked his patellar tendon to repair the tear in his ACL, said, “The first few days after surgery were rough, but after a couple weeks of therapy my knee is finally starting to feel a closer to what it used to.”

ACL tears have been occurring more often due to several different factors. Many people blame artificial turf for causing more knee and ankle injuries. Studies have shown that athletes who play on artificial turf fields have a slightly higher percentage of damaging their ACL. This is caused by the turf lessening the athlete’s ability to twist his/her foot once it is planted in the ground. Another factor that plays into the increase in these injuries is young people’s over-participation in sports.

Many doctors believe that young athletes who play the same sport year-round have a higher chance of lower body injury due to the constant use of the same muscle groups without rest. The sports put continuous stress on these muscles and wears them down. The best way to avoid the stress is to take a rest between sports seasons and play different sports.

If athletes ever decided to take a break, we could get rid of the growing elevator lines and keep the stairs as crowded as ever.

Categories: Sports

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