New Technology for Reducing Risk & Recovery Times for Young Athletes

John Xerogeanes MDWhether your child plays football, basketball, soccer or gymnastics, a common worry for many parents is the looming possibility of a sports injury. In many of these sports, anatomic anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are one of the most common injuries young athletes experience. For most children who injure their ACL, treatment consists of rehabilitation, wearing a brace, and reducing athletic activity levels until they stop growing (usually around their mid-teens), at which point ACL reconstruction surgery can safely be performed.

Why do we wait until kids stop growing to perform the surgery? ACL operations are typically conducted with extensive use of X-rays in the operating room, which often leads to a large margin of “chance” when working around growth plates. Essentially, performing ACL surgery on a young child significantly increases the risk of causing a growth plate disturbance.

To help ease this fear and risk, we’ve developed a new 3-D MRI technology at Emory Sports Medicine Center. The 3-D MRI technology makes it possible for surgeons to reconstruct ACL tears in young athletes without disturbing the growth plate. This technology allows us to better pre-operatively plan and perform ACL surgery with more precision and less risk.

As one of the four major ligaments in the knee, the ACL is somewhat like a rubber band, attached at two points to keep the knee stable. In order to replace the ligament, a tunnel is created in the upper and lower knee bones (femur and tibia) and a new ligament (typically taken from a hamstring or allograft tissue) is slid between those tunnels and attached at each end.

With the new 3-D technology being used at Emory, we can actually see from one end to the other on either side of the knee, and can correctly position the tunnels so we are able to place the new ligament with more precision. With this technology, ACL surgery can be done in less time than the traditional surgery, and we have great confidence that the growth plates in our young patients will not be damaged.

Kids who undergo this type of operation will still have at least one year of recovery time. The good news, is that it does allow them to eventually pursue normal activity much sooner than they would with the traditional surgery. This new method of ACL reconstruction is able to be performed on children and adults alike. My hope is that this new technology will aid us in preventing future re-injury for athletes who have suffered from ACL tears.

About John Xerogeanes, MD:

Dr. Xerogeanes, or Dr. “X”, is chief of Sports Medicine at the Emory Orthopaedic & Spine Center. He is also head orthopaedist and team physician for Georgia Tech, Emory University, and Agnes Scott College. As a member of a number of professional societies and organizations, including the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr. Xerogeanes has contributed to many textbooks and has received numerous research awards. Dr. Xerogeanes’ work has been featured on CNN, ESPN and network television news

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