ACL injury

ACL injuries in young athletes

The incidence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and ACL reconstructions are on the increase with young athletes. Here is a primer on what you need to know about ACL injuries in the younger age groups.


As children’s sport becomes more serious at younger age groups, the number of children needing ACL reconstruction has more than tripled in the last 15 years.

Anatomy of the knee:

The knee is a hinge joint formed by three major bones: your thigh bone (femur), shin bone (tibia) and kneecap (patella). Surrounding the knee joint are strong muscles as well as their tendons and ligaments. The parts of this arrangement all have a role in providing stability.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a key part of this arrangement.  It limits the amount that the femur can slide backward on the tibia (or tibia sliding forward on the femur).

The ACL in sport: 

The ACL can be injured when a person pivots or changes direction.  It can also be injured if you land awkwardly from a jump or through a traumatic incident involving tackling or sliding movements.

These injuries are very common in athletes in sports such as netball, AFL, soccer and rugby.ACL injuries sport

Generally an unexpected pivoting inwards movement of the knee is responsible for ACL tears/ruptures, but can also occur through hyperextension (when the knee bends too far backwards)too.

Female athletes unfortunately are at higher risk of ACL tears in competitive sport.  This is thought to be linked to biomechanics and strength differences compared to males.

How are ACL injuries diagnosed?

Your Physiotherapist or sports doctor will take a detailed history of how your knee injury occurred. They will also look for signs of ACL instability through specialised tests that can detect a tear or rupture.

An MRI may then be ordered depending on the findings.  The MRI canl also reveal any other injury such as a meniscal tear or other ligament tears that have happened..

How is an ACL injury treated?

Not all ACL injuries require surgery, however this will be guided by what your Physiotherapist, Sports doctor and Orthopaedic surgeon find after assessing the knee in question..

They will take into account your child’s age, sporting commitments, MRI findings and functional limitations when considering this.

Physiotherapy & ACL’s:

Prevention is key!

Prevention is the best way to avoid surgery, particularly in young, growing children.

A physiotherapist’s job is to screen your child for risk factors and prescribe “prehab” exercises.  Prehab is exercise that is done before injury to reduce the risk of injury. It is preventative exercise.

Whether or not your child needs surgery, a rehabilitation programme is crucial.  The rehabiliation will make all the difference with their recovery and return to sport.

Physiotherapy treatment is a critical part of the rehabiliation process.

Physio treatment helps:

  • reduce initial pain and inflammation,
  •  in returning your joint to normal range of motion,
  • strengthening and lengthening supporting muscles where needed
  • improve balance & proprioception,
  • improve agility
  • return to normal functional tasks such as running, squatting, jumping and landing
  • minimising the chance of re-injury.

If your child has a knee problem, it is a good idea to discuss your child’s knee injury with a health professional.

You can ring and speak with one of our physio for some FREE ADVICE on 8356 1000.  Alternatively, you can click on this link, submit your details and we will call you back.

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