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How ACL Injuries Lead to Arthritis in Young People

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and injuries are common in teens and young adults. They are one of the most common sports injuries and more likely to affect women than men.

But while the ACL tear may be devastating enough, keeping you out of the game for months, it can also have terrible long-term effects. A recent study found that of athletes who had reconstructive ACL surgery, 75 percent of them had signs of knee arthritis on an X-ray just 10 to 15 years later. Many of these athletes are only in their 30s or 40s, decades younger than the average arthritis patient.

Possible Causes of Arthritis

It’s not fully clear why so many athletes who experience ACL injuries develop arthritis. One likely cause is damage to the cartilage right when the injury occurs. As the ACL is torn, it may strain the knee cartilage, causing microscopic tears that may not be obvious on X-rays. Unfortunately, cartilage doesn’t receive a good supply of blood and so cannot heal itself well. Overtime, this damaged cartilage may become inflamed and even more damaged, leading to arthritis.

Another possible cause is the way your knee changes after surgery. Though today’s surgical techniques are vastly improved, restoring almost completely natural movement, you still may end up moving your knee differently after reconstruction. This may put strain on different areas of the knee cartilage, causing damage and leading to early arthritis.

How to Prevent ACL Tears

The best way to avoid early arthritis is to prevent ACL tears. Many injury prevention programs, such as those at Bon Secours In Motion Sports Performance, can help you improve the strength in your legs as well as your body mechanics when you jump, land, or change direction. Participating in these programs may help lower your risk for ACL tears while improving your performance.

Another way to prevent ACL tears is to pay attention to your pain. If you experience knee pain, don’t keep pushing yourself. See a sports performance physician or orthopedic surgeon to determine the cause of your pain and take steps to prevent any injuries from getting worse.

Other techniques, like bracing or taping, are not yet proven to reduce the risk for ACL tear. If you are concerned, however, you can talk to a sports performance specialist to learn more about your injury prevention options.

At Bon Secours In Motion, our athletic trainers work with athletes throughout the Hampton Roads area to improve technique, increase strength, and stop injuries before they happen. Contact us today to work with expert trainers.