ACL surgery rising fast in young females

ACL & Young Female Athlete

It’s great to see more people taking part in sporting activity, but according to a recent study of the private insurance data of a whopping 148 million US residents, there’s been a marked increase in operations to repair torn knee ligaments – and the highest and fastest rates can be found amongst teenage girls.

According to the study, which focused on surgery for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, the average annual ACL surgery rate climbed 22 percent from 2002 to 2014, when it reached 75 procedures for every 100,000 people. For girls between 13 and 19, however, the average annual knee surgery rate soared to 59 percent during the study period – to 269 procedures for every 100,000 people.

Why is this happening amongst both sexes?

According to Mackenzie Herzog, the lead author of the study, it’s impossible to pin it down to one particular aspect – but the booming popularity of sporting activity amongst the younger generation is an obvious factor.

“There are likely multiple factors contributing to the increase, including increased participation due to broader promotion of physical activity to improve health and adolescents participating in athletics more frequently and more intensely,” said Herzog. “Two particular trends that concern us are increased trends toward year-round sports participation at a young age and the tendency to specialise in one sport early.”

As far as ACL surgery rates go, women are starting to catch up, even though men are still having more procedures. By the end of the study, 87 men and 61 women out of every 100,000 people had ACL surgery each year.

This Girl Can (get injured too)

While the study wasn’t as comprehensive as we would have liked – there’s a lack of data on what sports people played, how often they participated in practices and competitions and any individual characteristics or medical conditions that might influence the odds of ACL injuries, for example – there’s enough info in there to indicate that there’s a distinct rise.

The obvious factor that we can point at is the undeniable rise of female participation in across-the-board sporting activity in such a short space of time. The female versions of team sports such as football and rugby have been legitimised over the past decade and previously male-only sports have been opened up to women; now the idea of sport as a lucrative career for women is becoming even more evident.

At the time of writing, it’s the flagship event of the tennis season – Wimbledon – and we’ll be seeing a textbook instance of a sport where the women are just as prominent as the men, if not more so. It’s also a sport that can really damage the ACL, as it forces the participant into movement patterns that can create tears.

So, what can be done to nip the potential epidemic of female ACL injuries in the bud? ‘The same things that male athletes should be doing’ is the painfully obvious answer. Cross-training programmes that include exercises to improve strength, balance, coordination and muscle control can help prevent ACL tears, along with the right footwear.