What's behind the rise in teen knee injuries?

NBC News, Today Show—February 28, 2012

Sports medicine specialist Jordan Metzl, M.D., of Hospital for Special Surgery tells TODAY’s Matt Lauer why knee injuries have increased nearly fourfold over the past 10 years, especially among young women, and offers tips for prevention.

Matt Lauer: More than 40 million kids participate in organized sports every year in this country. Women are up to eight times as likely to injure their acls than men. Dr. Jordan Metzl is with Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, or home away from home, as I call it. Nice to see you.

Jordan Metzl: And you.

ML: A 400% increase in these injuries in this age group over ten years. That's dramatic.

JM: Shocking to hear. Basically we are seeing more girls playing sports. We see more girls playing and they are much more likely to tear the acl than boys.

ML: I mentioned as young people specialize more in individual sports, my immediate reaction is sports are more competitive. Kids, schools and parents are driving the athletes harder. You're not necessarily sure about that.

JM:  I'm not sure that's the case. I don't think it's the sports. I think it's girls being exposed to sports like soccer and basketball where they are likely to land in an awkward position.

ML:  If a young athlete suffers an injury like this at 11, 12, 13, what's their long-term prognosis?

JM: It's a tough issue. Whether or not they have surgery, their risk of developing arthritis 15 years down the road just from tearing the acl is 35% to 40%. We are seeing people at 35, 40 years old with arthritic knees because they tore their acl as a teen.

ML: Has surgery come so far they can be 100% in their later teens and young 20s?

JM: Sure. Surgery gets you back on the field. it's a great surgery to get people back to activity but the risk is arthritis later in life.

ML: You say the trick is preventing injuries. How do you do that?

JM:  First, identify who is at risk for suffering the injury. Girls are about six times more likely than boys. It's interesting. After puberty, her hips widen and the angle between the hips, knees and feet changes. I brought a picture to show you what it looks like. When a girl lands, and we have two here, the girl in the yellow shirt is landing in an at-risk position. Her knee is coming to the middle. The girl in the pink is not. The risk is landing in that position. We screen kids likely to land like that.

ML: There are exercises you have identified that can help strengthen that area and prevent it.

JM: We want to build muscles around the back, butt and legs. What she's doing is getting the knees and hips low, the glute down low. She's building strength to prevent landing in that position.

ML: As athletes get younger we have to pay attention to details and do more in terms of prevention.

JM: We are doing a great job encouraging them to play sports. We want to prevent the injuries that happen.

View the full segment at nbcnews.com.  

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