New La Trobe University research has revealed a high number of young children and teenagers who play popular sports are repeatedly suffering serious knee injuries.
The study’s findings have shocked the researchers and prompted them to question whether young athletes who have sustained serious knee injuries should be encouraged to give up high-risk sports.
The researchers studied 128 patients who had already undergone two knee reconstructions before the age of 25, after injuring their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – the knee’s main stabilising ligament. The majority (91 per cent) played either AFL, basketball, soccer or netball before their injury.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Kate Webster said the most surprising finding from the research was the high rate of repeated ACL injuries among the group. More than one quarter (27 per cent) of the group had suffered three ACL injuries.
“There is always a risk of re-injury with an ACL, but what we didn’t expect to see was three – and even four – ACLs in the same patient,” Associate Professor Webster said.
“Having multiple ACL injuries puts young people at significant risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, which will have a lifetime effect on their ability to remain active.”
ACL injuries are the most common sports-related knee injuries in sports involving landing and pivoting. A number of players in the AFLW have suffered season-ending ACL injuries this year.
The La Trobe study found most (83 per cent) of the patients who had suffered a third ACL had returned to their pre-injury sport after their second ACL.
“Younger athletes also tend to return to sport earlier after surgery than older patients,” Associate Professor Webster said. “Our results highlight the challenge and risk that young people face when they suffer a serious knee injury and want to continue in their chosen sport.
“To protect our young athletes from future health concerns, we might need to look at stricter return-to-sport guidelines for those who’ve had multiple ACL injuries. We might even have to consider whether we need to encourage some young people to swap to lower-risk sports after a knee reconstruction to prevent them from having further injuries.
Published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the research project was a collaboration between La Trobe University and orthopaedic surgeons at Orthosport Victoria.
(Source: La Trobe University, American Journal of Sports Medicine)