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Treatment for ACL Injuries in Children and Teens

Topic Overview

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in children and teens are less common than in adults. But they do occur, especially in teens. An injury that hasn't been treated (or one in which the treatment didn't work) can lead to future knee problems. The knee may become more and more unstable. Over time, osteoarthritis may develop.

Trying rehab and other treatments

A child with an ACL injury can sometimes be treated without surgery to avoid damage to the child's still-developing bones. Your child can try rehab exercises, wearing a brace, and avoiding activities that require jumping or twisting.

Studies suggest that the more active a child is, the less likely these treatments will work and the more likely surgery will be needed in the future.1

An avulsion fracture is more common in young children. This happens when the ligament and a piece of bone separate from the rest of the bone. It can often be treated with a cast. But it sometimes needs surgery.

Having surgery

You may consider surgery if:

  • The knee is very unstable doing simple daily activities.
  • The knee can't be made stable with other methods.
  • The child has both an ACL injury and a meniscus tear.
  • The child is a serious athlete in sports that require running, jumping, and stopping quickly.

The main risks of surgery in a child whose bones are still growing is slowed growth. This could make one leg longer than the other. Other risks include a deformed thigh bone. The closer a child or teen is to full growth, the lower the risk of these problems.

Rest after surgery and a long rehab program are very important.

References

Citations

  1. Shea KG, et al. (2003). Anterior cruciate ligament injury in paediatric and adolescent patients. A review of basic science and clinical research. Sports Medicine, 33(6): 455–471.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Freddie H. Fu, MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Last Revised April 5, 2012

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