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Orthopedics - The Teen ACL: June 29, 2011

Closely associated with sports, ACL injuries are up 127% since 2004.

The majority of injuries come from basketball, football and soccer, so many of those getting hurt are teenagers.

At age 15, Kassidy Jennings is a multi-sport athlete, but at age 13 she suffered a major leg injury.

“I was at basketball states and it was a couple seconds before halftime and I went up to guard the girl from making a lay up and I jumped up and when I landed I heard it snap and I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”

Turns out she tore her ACL. It’s like a rubber band that stabilizes the knee. The fix is routine for adults; surgeons replace the tendon with a new one. But it’s problematic for teens because traditional surgery crosses a growth plate.

“That’s a huge problem with adolescents obviously because they’re still growing,” says Dr. Edward Humbert orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Dr. Humbert adds that it can stunt the growth of the knee and cause deformities where the patient may form a valgus deformity or a varus deformity, which is bow legs or knocked kneed.

When it comes to operating on teens, surgeons take special precautions that allow them to fix the knee without causing future health issues.

“We have what’s called called intra-articular versions of this where we can fix the ACL graft without drilling through the growth plate and still give them a good result of a good stable knee,” says Dr. Hombert.

Some young patients opt for physical therapy and have surgery once they hit maturity.

“Generally it’s two or three years after puberty where you’d see a dramatic decrease in the growth rate where you can drill through these tunnels safely,” says Dr. Hombert

More than a year after surgery, Kassidy is going strong.

“It took me probably eight months, six months total to get my flexibility back.”