ACL Injuries in Children and Teens

shutterstock_84331045ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injuries in children and teens are less common than in adults, but they do occur, especially in teens who play a lot of sports. In younger people especially, an ACL injury that hasn’t been treated or even one in which the treatment didn’t work can lead to future knee problems. The knee may become more and more unstable, and over time, arthritis may start to develop.

A child with an ACL injury can sometimes be treated without surgery to avoid damage to the child’s still-developing bones. Rehab exercises, wearing a brace, and avoiding activities that require jumping or twisting will sometimes help, but studies suggest that the more active a child is, the less likely these treatments will work and the more likely surgery will be needed in the future.

The best treatment option of ACL tears in the young and athletic children is usually reconstructive surgery. This is where a tendon is usually taken from another part of the body and used to rebuild the torn ligament in the knee. Non-operative treatment like wearing a brace or rehab exercises usually fail and can cause further harm, including damage to the meniscus cartilages.

Most Common Reasons for Having ACL Surgery as a Child or Teenager

  • The knee is very unstable even when performing simple daily activities.
  • The knee can’t be made stable with other methods such as rehab exercise or wearing a brace.
  • The child has both an ACL injury and a meniscus tear.
  • The child is a serious athlete in a sport that requires a lot of running, jumping, and stopping quickly.

box2One of the main risks of surgery in a child whose bones are still growing is “slowed growth.” Another common risk is a deformed thigh bone. These risks vary and depend a lot on the child’s growth development. The closer a child or teen is to full growth, the lower the risk of these problems.

We are not sure whether or not the rise in the number of reported torn ACL injuries recently are related to increased awareness by physicians, better diagnostic techniques, such as MRI and arthroscopy, or that possibly more children are involved in competitive sports.

In short, the anterior cruciate ligament can be torn in growing children; this actually happens more often than people have previously believed. Choosing the best treatment is slightly more difficult than when dealing with an adult, but with newer surgical techniques and other advances in medical technology, good post-op results are definitely possible.

If you have any questions or would like to find out more information about ACL reconstructive surgery for your child, please contact us today.

Alfred A. DeSimone, MD
Director of Sports Medicine
Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon