Derrick Rose, Wes Welker, Tom Brady and Iman Shumpert. A first glance at all of these names and we think of the athletes with some of the best talent in their respective sports. But one thing brings all of them together, and that’s the fact they’ve all torn their anterior crucial ligament (ACL).
What exactly is an ACL? When it comes to playing sports, the ACL is the most crucial ligament of your knee. It connects your upper leg to your bottom leg. It’s also attached to the meniscus at a 90 degree angle, which helps you rotate your leg to make sharp cuts on a field.
Those sharp cuts you make while playing a certain sport are one of the causes for the ACL to tear. You can also injure the ligament while bending it awkwardly or landing funny after a jump. Sometimes you can just tear it while walking on a sidewalk or missing a stair on a staircase. It’s a very sensitive area and gets weaker with age just like most other body parts.
When you injure the ACL, you’ll feel a few symptoms. The first one to occur could be a noise that sounds like a pop. Once you hear the pop, your knee buckles up and swells within hours. Thanks to the swelling, your movement in the area is limited. You might be able to walk a few minutes afterwards, but your motion is decreased.
The first step for treatment is known as the RICE method (Rest the knee, Ice it, Compression to the area, Elevate). Next, visit a doctor to determine if you need surgery or not. If surgery isn’t needed, a rehab assignment will be the next step. Rehab can take from as early as six months to a full year, all pending the tear.
All of the athletes I previously mentioned play professional basketball and football; the two most common sports to suffer from the injury. Causes for this are because these two sports demand the most out of your ACL.
For football players, when they’re running down the field and avoiding a tackle offensively, they’ll tweak their knee or spin in the opposite direction to avoid a defender. The same goes for a defender trying to cut back and tackle the player with the ball. Football players wear cleats, which are one of the biggest causes of ACL tears.
As for basketball, the athletes are consistently running down the court while jumping for rebounds and working around others. When the player gets tired during a timeout, they’ll just sit down for a minute and not try to stretch, tightening their muscles and making them more vulnerable to tear the knee ligaments.
Over the past decade, ACL tears have become more common to athletes from professional to as early as middle school. According to a study at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, ACL tears in children under the age of 18 have increased by over 400 percent in the past decade. While the injury might not be as permanently harmful compared to an older athlete, it could lead to stunned growth and limited movement.
So why has all of a sudden this injury taken the sports world by storm? Especially in the little leagues? Three simple yet powerful words; idolization and competition.
“I think it’s primarily because kids are out there trying to emulate professional athletes,” says Dr. J. Todd Lawrence, an orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “You see these very young athletes playing sports at an extremely intense, competitive level. Kids didn’t play at that level 20 years ago. They didn’t play one sport year-round.”
Coming from a man who plays a lot of sports, I get very competitive when I play. I want to be the best on the field and leave my impact. When you give it your all, sometimes you lose all of what you have from one awkward movement. I want to play just like the players I love to watch and write about on this website. It’s literally the same with every person my age or lower.
The difference is that middle school leagues and even some elementary school ones are becoming more like the pros. What I mean by that is the competition factor is just as high. I was never really pushed when I played as a little kid. Instead, we had fun while either winning or losing. When I watch little leagues now, the coach’s veins pop out of his skull and yelling at a 9-year-old for missing a block.
Having an older figure yell in your ear like that only makes you try harder. When you try harder, your chance of tearing the ACL increases. It’s pretty much now the coach is the chess wizard and his team are the pawns he’ll sacrifice for his checkmate.
My father coaches my younger brother’s flag football and basketball teams. While I told him what I was writing about, he wanted to chime in about the conspiracy that little leagues are a main reason why younger kids are starting to tear their ACL’s.
“All these kids that are playing in competitive leagues at a young age isn’t necessary,” he told me. “It has a lot to do with parents signing up kids also, because if they don’t sign up their children, think about it, these injuries wouldn’t happen often. Five-year-olds don’t have to travel out of state to play in sports tournaments. It’s ridiculous.”
Seeing this injury randomly become a phenomenon the past decade scares me. If 8-year-olds are having the same career-threatening injuries as their idols, does it affect the sport? Do the kids want to even be in their shoes? It’s something to ponder about from time to time.
Knowing that the mindset of a child who hasn’t hit double digits isn’t as developed as a professional athlete, maybe they feel pressured by their parents or peers to compete. Compare it to a teenager being adversed to drink an alcoholic beverage when he/she doesn’t want to. The outer world thirsts off the idea of seeing this kid perform and take him/her under their wing to develop.
It also scares me for what our future holds. If our sports are becoming more filled with the same type of people, this injury won’t go away but rather stay and spread like wildfire. I know we can’t avoid it, but something should be researched for this matter just like concussions have recently.