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Early ACL Surgery can be Beneficial for Young Athletes

Update Date: Jul 12, 2014 10:49 AM EDT

Even though surgeries can sound scary, a new study is reporting that for young athletes, getting knee surgery early on can be beneficial. According to the researchers, young athletes who suffered from a tear in their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and delayed getting surgery are increasing their risk of sustaining another knee injury.

"But what I've seen over 20 years and what this study demonstrates is that delaying surgery results in recurrent instability, meniscal damage and damage to the lining of the bone or degenerative changes that end up causing young people to have arthritis at a much earlier age," lead author Dr. Allen F. Anderson, from the Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance in Nashville told Reuters Health.

For this study, the researchers set out to examine whether or not getting surgery early on for an ACL tear affected knee health. The ACL is responsible for holding the bones in the knee together and stabilizing it during movement. The team analyzed medical data on 135 young athletes with the average age of 14. The adolescents all had ACL reconstruction surgery.

The team divided the children into three groups based on when they got their surgery. 62 athletes had surgery within six weeks after their injury, 37 underwent the procedure six weeks after their injury and 36 were treated 12 weeks after their ACL tear. The researchers found that children who had surgery six to 12 weeks after their injury were 45 percent more likely to suffer from a lateral meniscus injury than children who got surgery within six weeks after their tear. A lateral meniscus injury occurs outside of the knee. For children who waited 12 weeks to get surgery, they were three times more likely than children who got surgery at the earliest point to suffer from another knee injury.

The team added that children who waited more than six week to get surgery were four times more likely to suffer from a medial meniscus tear, which occurs on the inside of the knee in comparison to children who received treatment within the six weeks.

"The problem with a torn ACL, especially in an active young person that plays sports, is that the knee is not stable and may give out," Dr. David Geier, a Charleston, South Carolina-based orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist who was not involved with the study, said.

The researchers stressed the importance of addressing the potential benefits of surgery before dismissing or delaying procedure due to fear. The study was presented at the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine's yearly meeting located in Seattle, WA.

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