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Torn ACL in Young Athletes is Becoming an Epidemic

Updated on September 19, 2015
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Sandy J Duncan is a Neurofeedback Specialist and completing her Doctorate in Natural Medicine. She empowers readers with natural solutions!

#7 That's my Boy and Yes He can Fly
#7 That's my Boy and Yes He can Fly

Our Personal Torn ACL Experience

Our 15 year old son has been a soccer player since the day he was born. He literally began dribbling and passing soccer balls as soon as he could stand up. He has always loved the sport and has worked hard to be the best player he could be. He realized his first big goal when his competitive team made it to the Nationals (Way to Go Monaco)! What a memorable trip and feeling of accomplishment that was. Next on his radar was to train hard to make the Varsity team of his high school as a freshman. A lofty goal considering the team he was trying out for has 16 State titles. He worked out 2 hours a day on his own in off seasons to be prepared. He caught the head coaches attention during a summer league and was invited to play with the varsity team during a pre-season tournament. He was thrilled and when tryouts came, he gave it all he had and gained a position as a striker on the Varsity squad.

We were excited to see him play in a pre-season tournament with his new team. Things were going better than expected when he got his first team goal just 20 minutes into the first game! Then everything changes in an instant on just one play. He's challenging an opponent that outweighs him by a good 30 pounds and they are both crashing towards the ball. Our son plants his feet to shoulder the 6'3" senior, convinced he should have ball possession. Instead he hears a popping noise and crumples to the ground unable to stand up. This one moment changes his "top of the world, made varsity bliss" to the start of a devastating series of appointments, surgery and now facing a full 6 months off the field with grueling physical therapy ahead to get back to the game he loves so much.

I so distinctly recall his competitive team coach upon hearing Xavier made the Varsity team saying, "It is a much more physical game and the players are bigger and stronger than the young players on the team. He will need to be very careful and learn to deal with the more aggressive playing styles at this level.

— Christophe Nicot, Director of Coaching, Overland Park Soccer Club
Torn ACL in Young Athletes
Torn ACL in Young Athletes

Torn ACL in Young Athletes Statistics

Sadly, close to 250,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries happen per year in the United States alone with more than 100,000 of these requiring reconstruction surgeries. The cost is estimated at a staggering 17 billion dollars every year and climbing. Unfortunately over 50% of these ACL tears involve young athletes between 15 to 20 years old.

These ACL injuries have traumatic and often lasting effects on the quality of life of young athletes. They can lead to a decreased grade point average with all the missed time at school, depression from loss of doing what they love, fear of returning to their sport or not being able to return to their previous skill level and even the loss of a collegiate scholarship or professional career. Long-term risks include up to a 70% chance of early osteoarthritis 10 to 15 years following injury.

And the most tragic part in this drama is the fact that as many as 88% of these injuries could have been prevented with proper stretching and movement education.

For those of us unfortunate enough to have experienced this devastating injury with our own child, the pain, suffering, late nights with the ice machines not to mention the expense of the surgery, we certainly wish we had this information BEFORE the injury occurred.

Experts Agree Education is Key to Preventing Torn ACL in Young Athletes

With 1.4 million sports related injuries every year, many of which are preventable, young athletes need advanced training in movement physiology and basic stretching to avoid injuries and to minimize their impact when they occur, says Kevin Plancher, MD, a leading sports orthopaedist and founder of the Orthopaedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles.

Young Athletes bodies unprepared to handle the intensity

Children's bodies are often physiologically unprepared to handle such prolonged intensity, according to Dr. Kevin Plancher. He notes, for example, that even high school athletes do not have the muscle mass of collegiate or adult athletes. In addition, the growth plates at the ends of the long bones in the body do not fully calcify until adulthood, making them softer and more prone to fractures in childhood.

Dr. Plancher suggests that any young athlete who experiences swelling or hears a tearing or popping sound at the site of the injury, or has difficulty bearing weight in the injured area, should refrain from play. The RICE technique “rest, ice, compression and elevation“ should be applied immediately, and if the symptoms persist or worsen after several hours, the child should be taken to an emergency room or a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, he advises. This will help them to recover more quickly and completely.

How many Young Athletes do you personally know that have torn an ACL?

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Cause and Effect of Torn ACL in Young Athletes

The ACL is one of the four major ligaments that stabilize the knee joint, and it helps protect the knee when landing from a jump, pivoting, or slowing down from a run. As young athletes enter into puberty and grow taller and heavier, their risk of ACL injury increases starting at age 12 for girls and 14 for the boys.

Studies indicate that the majority of injuries that require surgical intervention occur in games, and particularly in competition (rather than in a practice game or scrimmage). A surprising 70% of ACL injuries are non-contact and are the combined result of bad mechanics and a bit of bad luck.

Youth sports are getting more competitive, with more parents employing trainers and coaches and pushing their children to compete at earlier ages. To make matters worse, kids are playing all of the time. A lot of young athletes play one sport year-round while simultaneously participating in a different team sport each season. With this trend it is no wonder doctors have seen an increase in this type of injury.

Simple Prevention Tips for Torn ACL in Young Athletes

It’s the opinion of many experts in sports medicine that many of these non-contact injuries are preventable. Even in certain cases where contact is involved or the mechanism is something external such as an uneven field, it’s entirely possible that with proper training the same event would not have produced the same result. Often injuries are more of an accumulative effect rather than an instantaneous mechanical breakdown. If a young athlete's body gets abused for weeks or months, eventually something’s going to give. Thankfully, with a little education and training we can help keep our young athletes out of the operating room.

Young athletes, generally speaking, are not taught how to move properly. They are taught gameplay mechanics, strategies, and sport specific skills. But often no one takes the time to teach them basic things like squatting, running, and landing mechanics. See the movie below and pass this along to the young athletes in your life!

The AAP recommends plyometric and strengthening exercises to reduce athletes’ risks of being injured, and encourages coaches and school sports programs to learn about the benefits of this kind of neuromuscular training. A list of training programs is available at

Simple Steps to Help Prevent Torn ACL

Game Changer: 7 Exercises to Prevent ACL Injuries


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    • ProSportandSpine profile image


      6 years ago from Gig Harbor, WA

      Make sure to include glute in core strengthening and ankle mobility exercise in all ACL prevention programs.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      6 years ago from the PNW

      Very important hub. I hear it more and more locally among the high schools and it also appears epidemic in the modern pro athlete. I don't remember many guys in high school having this injury nor do I remember any of my favorite pro teams going through a lot of these back in the day. Over training and year round play are the culprits. Select and tournament teams are becoming too much. Great work.


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