Top Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. Victor Khabie offers tips for keeping kids safe from lacrosse related ACL tears.
Lacrosse is arguably the oldest team sport in the Americas—it was first documented by a French missionary in the early 15th century, but other accounts have the Indians playing it 300 years before Columbus. It’s also one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. today, with more than 560,000 people, including 300,000 kids aged two to 18, playing the sport. While this new popularity brings an increased risk for lacrosse related injury, particularly injuries to the ACL, the good news is that modern reconstructive surgical techniques can reliably get athletes back playing in 9-12 months, says Victor Khabie, M.D., a sports medicine specialist and orthopaedic surgeon with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.
Although it’s considered a relatively safe sport—the male version is a contact sport, the female is not—lacrosse is producing an increasing number of traumatic knee injuries in young players of both sexes, Dr. Khabie says. Specifically, kids are sustaining injuries to the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, which is the main stabilizer of the knee joint. It can get sprained or torn when an athlete sprints, pivots, or plants a foot, all of which are standard moves in any lacrosse game.
Moreover, there’s new research that shows a rise in ACL injuries in preadolescent players, says Dr. Khabie. This is news, he explains, because ACL tears were all but unheard of in children before now. In the days before there was a lacrosse league in every town, a child who sustained a twisting fall or other trauma to the knee joint typically would fracture his or her tibial spine, the small bone that extends from the tibia (shinbone) and anchors the ACL. That’s because the ACL is actually stronger than the bone in kids whose skeletons are still growing, he explains. But between 1999 and 2013—roughly the same time that the sport of lacrosse really took off—ACL tears increased at ten times the rate of tibial spine fractures.
Tips for Minimizing the Risks
To keep kids safe on the lacrosse field, Dr. Khabie offers the following tips:
- Build fitness first. Like any athletes (in any age group), lacrosse players should be in good shape, in terms of both cardiovascular and muscle strength. “Being in shape makes it easier to play well and reduces the risk of mishaps—falls and collisions with other players—that come when kids get tired,” Dr. Khabie explains.
- Focus on form. Parents may think that lacrosse, with all that running and dodging, should come naturally to kids. But proper mechanics are key, Dr. Khabie says. “Kids should learn how to jump and land correctly, with their weight properly balanced, and they need to have sufficient core strength to support all the work that their arms and legs are doing,” he says.
- Mix It Up. Young athletes should be encouraged to play more than one sport—and to take regular breaks from intense games like lacrosse. “Studies show that kids who play one sport, year-round, are much more likely to get hurt,” Dr. Khabie says. “But those who play a variety of sports develop a wide range of skills and are less prone to injury.”
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