ACL tears increasing among kids, study shows

February 22, 2017

For high caliber athletes, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a seasoning-ending event.

But, torn ACLs are increasingly common among children and adolescents, too, according to new research in the latest issue of Pediatrics.

The study – led by Nicolas Beck, M.D., and Marc Tompkins, M.D., of the University of Minnesota Medical School – shows ACL tears in patients ages 6-18 have increased about 2.3 percent each year for the past 20 years, marking a significant upward trend.

“Anecdotally, within the pediatric population, we had seen increases in these injuries, which are known to occur at a high rate in adults participating in sports,” said Tompkins, assistant professor in the school’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and surgeon at TRIA Orthopaedic Center. “This is the first study to verify the trend in the pediatric population, and will allow the medical community to be more aware of this issue, which may help to better assess and treat patients’ injuries.”

Data shows girls have higher rates of ACL tears, peaking at age 16 with 392 injuries per 100,000 persons per year. Boys ACL tears peaked at age 17 with 422 injuries per 100,000 persons per year. By comparison, there are an estimated 200,000 tears per year in the United States.

There are likely many reasons for this increase, but one reason is believed to stem from higher participation rates in year-round sports among kids, like soccer, football and basketball.

“The hope would be that this information would help us identify potential causes for this increase and intervene, if possible. For example, if sport specialization earlier in childhood is contributing to more ACL injuries, we could increase awareness and education about the risks of such early sports specialization.” said Beck, currently a resident at University of Minnesota Medical School. “We also found that the highest rate of injuries coincided with high school age when sporting activity becomes even more rigorous and competitive. This is important information for athletes, coaches, and parents because it may be important to use more ACL injury prevention programs as part of regular training in these athletes.”