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Study: Knee Injuries Dramatically Rising in Youth Athletes

Researchers examining children's knee injuries at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) discovered a more than 400 percent increase in the number of sports-related anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tears in youths over the past decade, according to a study presented Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference.

From Jan. 1, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2011, CHOP identified a total of 996 meniscus tears, 914 ACL tears, and 155 tibial spine fractures in patients under 18 at the hospital, according to the study. (A tibial spine fracture was "once thought to be the pediatric equivalent of an ACL tear," according to lead study author Dr. J. Todd Lawrence.)

Both meniscal tears and ACL tears often occur during sports. Meniscus tears often result from an unnatural twisting of the knee, while ACL tears typically occur when an athlete attempts to pivot or cut while decelerating, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Over that 12-year time period, ACL tears in young athletes at the hospital increased by 11.35 injuries per year and meniscus tears increased by 13.95 injuries per year. Tibial spine fractures increased by 1.07 injuries per year.

"This continued rise in ACL tears in children suggests that injury patterns are changing and that the true incidence of these injuries is increasing," Dr. Lawrence said in a statement.

Dr. Lawrence partially attributed the increase in knee injuries to the ever-growing intensity of youth sports and the year-round model that more youth sports teams are adopting.

The researchers also credited advances in technology and higher medical awareness for the number of diagnoses spiking over the past decade.

These types of injuries are often more troublesome for youth athletes than adults, as the injuries require an intense recovery period and could impair growth. The researchers note that student-athletes will often return to their sport after fully healing, placing themselves at risk of reinjury.

"While we are never going to prevent all injuries, there is good evidence, particularly for some sports like soccer, that sports injury prevention programs can go a long way towards reducing them," said Dr. Lawrence.

Now, of course, this study comes with the major caveat that it only looked at youth injuries at one hospital in Philadelphia. There's no guarantee that this is a nationally representative survey.

The fact that the study examines over 1,000 youth knee injuries over a 10-year span gives the study a great deal more credibility, however.

As if youth sports didn't have enough safety concerns, this study certainly merits further research into a potential increase in youth-athlete knee injuries.

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