Teenagers – The Biggest Target for ACL Injuries

The return of sport for children and teenagers in NSW is a welcome relief for many. Finally there’s an opportunity to escape the four walls of home confinement and burn off some energy. But for one particular group, there’s a hidden risk which needs attention before competition kicks off. 

ACL ruptures, complete tearing of the main stabilising ligament in the knee, is recognised as one of the most significant injuries for most field sports. But many don’t realise that late teens are the most common age group to rupture their ACL. Female teenagers 15-19 years are the most common group for ACL ruptures across all ages and genders.  For males, late teens 15-19 years are the 2nd most common group to suffer ACL ruptures (only just behind 20-24 years).

The toll an ACL injury takes on an athlete can’t be understated. Return to sport timeframes average around 12 months and surgery & rehab costs in excess of $10k. In addition, many don’t return to the same level of sport and most experience early arthritis within 10-15 years. Not a pretty picture, right?

But there’s some good news on the horizon!

ACL prevention programs seem to be quite effective at reducing the number of ACL injuries. These programs often consist of strength, plyometric and agility exercises designed to improve control of the knee in at-risk situations. Research has shown that there’s no magic exercises for the program – the exercises you choose just needs to target strength, landing and agility movements.

The programs are an easy add-on to any team training session, taking around 10-15 minutes to complete. However there is often poor implementation for reasons ranging from a lack of coach training in the programs to limited training time and low prioritisation. 

As a parent of a teenager, especially a female teenager, you may need to take the initiative to avoid the experience (and cost) of ACL surgery and rehab. You can discuss the programs with your coach – most sporting associations provide an ACL program as part of their coaching resources. Otherwise you can start your teen on their own ACL prevention program, following the association program or getting a custom designed program from your physio.

With a custom program, the specific components of ACL risk are assessed and targeted. The good news is that these risk factors are often performance-limiting, so fixing them will have the added bonus of boosting performance! Then it’s up to you whether you go for a home-based program or a gym-based program. Typically choose the one that’ll be easiest to stick to – if you don’t already attend a gym, home programs are more practical. If you have a regular gym session, adding 10 minutes of exercises to that should be easy enough. 

ACL prevention is simple and fairly quick. It may seem like a low priority but there are plenty of ACL sufferers who wish they had their time again. For a mere 10 minutes of your time, it’s a worthwhile insurance policy.