How do I manage an ACL tear in a young athlete?

acl acl surgery female athlete Jun 14, 2022

What is the ACL?

ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament:

  • Anterior means that it attaches in the front part of the knee on the front part of the shin bone (tibia).
  • Ligament is a type of tissue that holds a joint together or connects bone to bone.

The ACL stabilizes the knee during front-to-back motions and rotation. It is deep inside the knee so it’s difficult for you or your athlete to feel it and know if the ACL was torn.

Causes of ACL tears in young athletes

The most common way that young people tear their ACLs is actually through non-contact injuries — when an athlete moves in one direction to chase after that ball, then suddenly twists and changes direction. Sports where this is more likely include:

Soccer, Basketball, Football, Lacrosse and Skiing

After the pivoting-related injury, the youth athlete may feel like their knee is weak but be able to walk off the field. 

Diagnosing an ACL tear in young players

The first step to diagnosing an ACL tear is getting an X-ray. This noninvasive test provides important information, including:

  • Is there a broken bone?
  • Are the child's growth plates still open?
  • Is the overall alignment of the limbs typical?

MRI is often the next step - MRI tells us more about ligaments, cartilage and tendons.

Managing an ACL injury in young athletes

  • Rehab: physical therapists help guide motion, help reduce swellinga and help with crutch use/gait training
  • Icing/Compression