More adolescents getting into sports is a good thing. Unfortunately, more adolescents in sports also means more sports injuries, many knee-related. In the United States, approximately a third of all injuries sustained by children are sports-related. Apparently, contact sports like football and hockey are more likely to bring about more injuries than non-contact sports such as swimming, running or tennis, however, either type can cause injuries resulting from contact with other players or from one’s own muscle misuse.
If you have or know of adolescents who participate in sports activities then it would be good for you to know these things about adolescent sports knee injuries.
The Adolescent Knee
The adolescent knee differs from the adult’s as it has very active growth plates (the area of developing tissue near the end of the long bones in children and adolescents) which are generally weaker than the surrounding bones and ligaments. Because of this, a ligament tear in an adult may instead cause a fracture through the adolescent knee. Eventually, the growth plates become solid, which is when the person stops growing. The growth plates stop from being a factor at around ages 15 to 17 for boys and around 13 to 15 for girls.
Macrotrauma and Microtrauma
Knee injuries may be caused by either of the two types of trauma common among adolescents in organized sports – micro or macro. Macrotrauma results from one single application of force, enough to fracture the bone. Microtrauma, on the other hand, is brought about by repetitive trauma or forces that exceed the athlete’s ability to withstand them.
More often than not, adolescents in athletic training are urged by others to “power through” such injuries, and be flippant about the whole injury. Though this approach may teach adolescents a thing or two about being tough amidst so-called adversities of life, it presents some disadvantages as it often results to an unnecessarily prolonged healing process that further delays the athlete’s recovery and return to playing the sport. In turn, the delayed healing may, at times, exacerbate the situation as the passage of time over the injury turns it from a simple one that could easily be treated into something more complicated. In worse cases, because the injury has become more complicated, you could end up with an injury that could prevent you from participating in the sport permanently or at least for a considerable period of time.
Common Knee Injuries
Microtrauma or overuse injuries, are more frequently seen among young athletes. In adolescents, repetitive stress to the growth plates can cause injury. The more common knee injuries, resulting from both macro- and microtrauma, among adolescents include:
- Fractures or breaking of the growth plates. Fractures can possibly stop the bone from growing properly and should be taken very seriously. Surgery may be something to be discussed with the orthopedist.
- Anterior knee pain may be caused by overuse, poor flexibility or alignment, or imbalance of the muscles. A specialist is best consulted in treating this type on injury.
- Osgood-Schlatter’s disease and Sindig-Larsen-Johansson disease are common overuse injuries that adolescents will eventually outgrow. But while they experience them, managing the pain means rest and tempering participation in the sport.
- Osteochondritis dissecans results from macrotrauma and can be very serious. It may be treated with rest or if necessary, with surgery.
- Bipartite/multipartite patella may be treated with rest or surgery as well.
- Patellar instability may be treated conservatively or with knee surgery, depending on the dislocation.
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury is best treated by immobilizing the knee with protective braces.
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is very prevalent among adolescent female athletes.
- Meniscal injuries result from twisting. With this injury you see swelling, catching, and locking of the knee. Arthroscopic surgery is often the best treatment for his type of injury.
When seeking medical treatment for the adolescent sports knee injury, be prepared to submit the following information to the physician to facilitate diagnosis: the young athlete’s age, sex, degree of involvement in the sport and a clear description of how the injury occurred. The patient’s medical history as well as any similar history among family members is also valuable. Finally, for accurate diagnosis, the patient must submit to a physical examination.