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Schwartz: Taking A Closer Look At The Rise Of ACL Injuries

Australian Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper holds his knee after a suspected anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Australian Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper holds his knee after a suspected anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

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By Peter Schwartz
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Injuries have always been a part of sports.  When a season starts, a team can only hope to avoid them, but in many cases they are inevitable. But it sure seems like there have been more serious injuries in the last year, especially in the NFL.

And there is data to prove it.

SI.com’s “The MMQB” recently examined the spike in injuries and the numbers are staggering. There were 23 ACL injuries through the first 13 weeks of the regular season after 27 ACL injuries during the preseason.

Why have there been so many injuries?

“The rationale is that people are running at faster and quicker speeds.” according to John Gallucci Jr., President and Founder of JAG Physical Therapy. Gallucci is also the medical coordinator for Major League Soccer and has established himself as a national presence in the sports-medicine community.

When it comes to the spike in ACL injuries, Gallucci says it’s simple.

The landscape of sports is different from what it was before.

“Players are definitely stronger and faster than they were 10-15 years ago.” Gallucci said.

There are several ways that an ACL injury can occur.  In the sports world, ACL injuries are caused by collision. From a non-contact perspective, in sports or not, the straight knee landing, landing in hyperextension stress, pivot shift, planting and cutting can all send you to an orthopedic surgeon.

It seems like you can’t go five minutes without hearing about a player suffering an ACL injury.  In fact, these injuries are taking place all over the country. It’s worth noting that there are 95,000 new ACL ruptures each year and there are 60,000-70,000 ACL reconstructions performed annually in the United States.

But ACL injuries are not just limited to the NFL, or men for that matter.

In fact, there are more females suffering the injury than men.

“When the biomechanics of the knee changes slightly, it causes an imbalance,” said Gallucci. “That would lead a female athlete to be at a higher risk of an ACL injury versus a male athlete.”

These injuries have also become commonplace in high school and collegiate sports, and they come with a big price. The annual cost for treatment of ACL injuries is a whopping $650 million.

ACL injuries at the youth level have become a huge concern.

“There is such a varied difference of the kids,” said Gallucci.  “You can have athletes at 13 (and) even 14 years old that are so much more developed than another athlete at 13-14 years old.”

That wide spectrum of how kids develop can sometimes cause the amount of those injuries to accelerate at a disturbing level. The problem at the youth level is that players might not be taking part in a structured strength program.

While professional and college teams employ full-time strength coaches, that is not the case at the youth and club levels. Research has been conducted showing that any athlete that takes part in a lower extremity or leg-strengthening program will see a decreased risk of any lower-extremity injuries to the knees, ankles and hips.

But these kids have to have some direction, and in many cases that is not happening.

“These clubs really don’t employ a tremendous amount of strength coaches,” said Gallucci.  “They expect the coaches to be the ones who are able to train the kids.  Well the coaches want to teach the kids the sports.”

While the coaches aren’t experts in that area, they aren’t ignoring what has to be done. Generally, a coach at the youth level will have a 10- to 15-minute portion of practice dedicated to conditioning.

But if you are a 13 or 14-year-old athlete, you have to condition yourself at a high level in order to play at a high level.  That just can’t happen with 10 minutes of jumping jacks and push-ups.

“That’s the biggest issue that we are seeing right now,” said Gallucci. “We don’t have a tremendous amount of children that are participating in conditioning programs for the sport that they are participating in.”

If you play sports at any level or if you are active, an ACL injury is always a possibility. It’s a problem that affects everyone, whether you are a professional or amateur, male or female, adult or child.

The important thing to remember is that proper conditioning can help decrease your risk of getting hurt.

You want to have fun, but you want to stay in the game. While the professional and collegiate athletes are getting the proper guidance, it’s important to make sure that youth players take part in the right strength programs.

If you have kids playing sports like I do, you just can’t take things for granted anymore.

To learn more about ACL injuries, visit JAG Physical Therapy’s website here.

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