Study: Dramatic rise in sports-related knee injuries among kids

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Over the past 12 years, the number of children with tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus have increased dramatically, according to orthopedic surgeons from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who presented their findings Oct. 16 at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting in Boston.

J. Todd Lawrence, MD, PhD, orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues wanted to confirm assumptions that knee injuries have increased among children in recent years.

The study team performed a retrospective review of records for all patients under 18 with ACL and meniscus tears treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia from January 1999 through January 2011. Those numbers were then compared to patients that sustained tibial spine fractures during that same period since tibial spine fractures were thought to be the pediatric equivalent of an ACL tear.

A total of 155 tibial spine fractures, 914 ACL tears and 996 meniscus tears were identified. Tibial spine fractures increased by only 1 case per year, whereas ACL tears increased by more than 11 cases per year and meniscus tears increased by 14 cases per year.

"Our study confirmed our hypothesis that, at least at our large academic pediatric hospital, knee injuries are an ever-growing problem for children and adolescents involved in sports," Lawrence said in a statement, adding that the rise in ACL tears in children suggests injury patterns are changing and that the incidence of these injuries is increasing along with greater participation in sports.

Another explanation for the rise in numbers given by the researchers is the continued advancement of imaging technology to identify such injuries and increased clinician awareness of the signs and symptoms of ACL and meniscus tears.

The researchers hope that the results will call to light the importance of research to identify pediatric and adolescent athletes who may be at risk for ACL and meniscus tears while also encouraging coaches and parents to consider injury prevention programs.