New technology helps ACL reconstruction in kids

February 14, 2011 3:18:06 PM PST
If you hear the words 'ACL tear,' you may be expecting to hear about a professional athlete injured in a weekend sporting event. But these days, doctors are seeing more of these injuries in amateur athletes, especially kids. New technology is reconstructing ACLs more accurately, and keeping kids growing healthy.

Cole Mcbay is only 11, but he's already suffered his first major league injury. Last year, he tore his ACL."

Cole suffered an ACL injury at age 10."I knew something felt wrong in my knee. It was hurting a lot," he says

The ACL is like a rubber band that stabilizes the knee.

Dr. John Xerogeanes, chief of sports medicine at Emory Orthopedic and Spine Center and head team physician at Georgia Tech, says,"Without this, if this is gone or torn, your knee will pop out of place."

Surgical repair is routine for ACL tears in adults, but for kids, it can be problematic.

Xerogeanes adds, "A traditional reconstruction goes right across here, right across the growth plate. We don't want to do that. You may help their degeneration of their knee by preventing further injury, but you could damage them by going through the growth plate and potentially causing a growth disturbance or a misalignment of their leg."

Emory and Georgia Tech researchers developed this new 3D MRI technology using this data before surgery, doctors can accurately pre-plan a safer, more anatomical ACL reconstruction in kids 10-years old or even younger.

Xerogeanes explains, "And it's a hundred percent reliable that we can use a large, a fairly large tunnel, larger than we've ever thought we can use before, and never hit the growth plate." Cole says Xerogeanes found a way to fix his knee and got him back to playing sports again.

One year after surgery, Cole's grown stronger and four inches taller -- a young athlete who's happy to be back in the lineup.

Emory doctors say successful ACL surgery for kids can mean better outcomes down the road. Multiple studies show that if surgery is not performed within two years of an ACL injury, it increases the likelihood of another significant injury that could lead to degenerative arthritis at an early age.


The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of four major ligaments in the knee and the most common ligament that gets injured. Sudden changes of direction or landing in a certain way can cause a tear in the ACL. If the ligament is completely torn, it will not heal. These injuries are most common in sports such as basketball, football and soccer. Research suggests that athletes participating in contact sports are 10 times more likely to have a serious knee injury than in non-contact sports like golf or swimming. Although soccer has a low rate of injuries compared to other youth sports, the ankle and knee are the most often injured body parts in youth soccer. (SOURCE:


According to 2004 data provided by Brown University Biology and Medicine, knee ligament injuries have increased by 172 percent. Factors that contribute to ACL injuries include ground hardness, grass type and cleat type. (SOURCE:


It's estimated that more than 1.4 million women will tear an ACL every year. Furthermore, each year one in every 10 collegiate female athletes and one in every 100 high school female athletes will have a serious knee injury. Some statistics support that female soccer players are eight times more likely to injure their ACL than a male soccer player. Researchers also believe this may be due to differences in hormone levels, neuromuscular control, lower limb biomechanics, ligament strength and fatigue. In fact, female ACL injuries are so widespread that both high school and collegiate coaches expect at least one player to be sidelined by an ACL injury every season. (SOURCE: )


Nearly all ACL injuries in children are first treated with physical therapy and rehabilitation. Research shows though, that nearly $30 million a year would be saved in hospital charges if early rather than delayed ACL reconstruction surgery was performed. The goal of ACL knee surgery is to stabilize the knee allowing patients get back to a healthy, active lifestyle. (SOURCE:


Kathy Baker, Emory Univeristy at (404)727-9371 or email