SPORTS physiotherapist Dean Lawler has been in the business for more than the past 20 years and in the last month he has seen an increase in anterior cruciate ligament injuries in children.
One of those was 16-year-old Shelby Grainger.
The talented teenager is no stranger to a sporting field, having taken to the netball and basketball courts and touch football and aussie rules fields.
There aren’t many sports she hasn’t tried, but three weeks ago she suffered a torn ACL which will require a knee reconstruction.
How it happened wasn’t anything dramatic – she landed on the netball court after taking a pass, heard a crack and then fell to the ground.
Lawler said it was how most ACL injuries occurred, but he believes it isn’t as simple as putting it down to injuries are something which happens in sport.
“Injuries are going to happen and some ACL injuries are going to happen,” he said.
“These injuries have tripled in the past 15 years, particularly in kids.”
He puts the increase in injuries down to an increased training load on young children and the fact some parents or coaches are pushing their children too much.
“I don’t believe parents or coaches understand that when kids are growing, that’s a training load on their body,” he said.
“There needs to be a lot more ACL prevention in kids because traditionally, ACL injuries were for people 24, 25 or 26 years old and predominantly in sports like AFL, netball, touch football, basketball and rugby league.
“But I’m seeing kids as young as nine come in which is frightening and scary and something I haven’t heard of since being a physio for the last 23 years.”
While he did not believe these sorts of injuries can be totally prevented, there needed to be more preventative measures put in place.
“Sometimes that’s the nature of the sport – you have quick change of directions and you can’t change the nature of the sport – but you can have preventative means that can lessen the likeliness of a serious injury happening,” Lawler said.
“I can’t stress enough to parents and coaches that when kids are growing, that is a training load in itself and you’ve got to be careful.
“That’s when they’re more than likely to cause a serious injury such as an ACL injury.
“Shelby was playing netball, which is one of those sports that have a high incident of knee injuries due to the nature of the sport.
“Something that couldn’t be prevented was how it happened, but there is a chance to minimise it with prevention programs.”
Lawler said Netball Australia had a knee program, FIFA had a program specific for knee-injury prevention and felt those sort of programs needed to be carried out in other sports.
“If you have an ACL injury it’s 12-18 months out of action,” he said.
“There needs to be more prevention strategies out there and learn the right technique. Landing, how to change direction properly, all about protecting the knee.
“Parents need to back off and let kids be kids. They don’t need to be playing sport every day of the week. You can’t keep flogging them.”