June 7, 2007
ALC Surgery Now Commonplace For Under 15 Year Olds
Parenting author and Oakland's Redwood Day School head Mike Riera sees the benefit of exploring multiple sports in terms of children's personal growth. "Why the pressure for a kid to know what their sport is when they're 10 years old? If we're really trying to develop kids who are multifaceted, and kids who have multiple intelligences, then they need to play a variety of sports. They need to play the one where they're the natural, and they need to play one where they're not so good. And they have to know what it's like to be picked last. So the kid who's great in soccer may be a lousy basketball player because they don't have that kind of coordination. They need to know what that's like, instead of being protected, going for the soccer all the time."
Kids who specialize, play year-round and/or play the same sport on multiple teams are especially susceptible to overuse injuries because their young bodies are still growing. Time magazine writer Christine Gorman, in a June 2005 article on why more kids are getting hurt, explains, "The constant repetition is particularly brutal on joints and growth plates — the areas of developing bone tissue that are the weakest parts of a child's skeleton because they haven't completely ossified." Gorman notes that doctors find injuries tend to cluster at different ages: heel problems in children 9 to 12, elbow problems for those 10 to 12 and knee injuries for athletes 12 to 14. And girls are more likely than boys to tear their ACL, "a tough ribbon of tissue that holds the knee together."
"Twenty years ago, it was rare for someone under age 15 to have ACL surgery," Dr. Daniel Green, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery, told Gorman. "Now it's commonplace."
There's a booming business in youth sports injuries. Children's Hospital Boston opened a Division of Sports Medicine in 1974, the first clinic of its kind in the United States, and served about 250 athletes that year, according to Dr. Lyle Micheli, one of i ts founders and the current director. Micheli told the Salt Lake Tribune he now sees more than 300 children a week. In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, Micheli said that 25 years ago, only 10 percent of his patients came to him for injuries caused by overuse, but today it's 70 percent.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 3.5 million kids younger than 15 received medical treatment for sports injuries in 2003, more than four times the number since 1995, when it was 775,000. And many youth sports injuries — some studies say 30 percent or more — are caused by overuse. The high cost of sports medicine treatments (like ACL and Tommy John surgeries) and expensive — increasingly common — diagnostic tests (like MRIs) are driving up the cost of medical care in general, so there's a price being paid by the whole society, not just sports parents.
The five most common overuse injuries are shin splints, bone f racture, knee damage, heel injury and Little Leaguer's elbow. Among the other afflictions kids frequently suffer: Sever's disease, which affects the growth plates of the heel and occurs frequently in soccer players ("Ten or 15 years ago we never saw Sever's disease in young girls," Micheli told People in June 2005); Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD), which causes knee pain in soccer and basketball players; gymnast's wrist; and Little Leaguer's shoulder.