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Ligament injuries becoming common

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 5:40 p.m.

Confident you and your teenage athlete are both safe from suffering the knee injury that forced NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III off the game field and under the knife recently?

Think again.

The Washington Redskins rookie tore two of the four primary ligaments, including his anterior cruciate ligament. ACL injuries have more than tripled since 2000, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and it doesn't take a hit from a behemoth defenseman to cause one. ACL injuries are the most common knee sprain and result more frequently from non-contact.

“It can happen in any sport that requires you to pivot, turn, twist or jump,” says Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers' Association. “It can even happen on a golf course on uneven terrain or if you're working in your yard.”

Learning how to protect the knee can eliminate the need for surgery and can help prevent lingering damage that can cause arthritis and lead to knee replacement. Knee replacement surgeries are soaring and expected to continue to rise as active baby boomers age.

Strengthening the core and hips helps, Thornton says, and proper warmups can prevent ACL tears.

Braces can support the ligaments on the outside and inside of knees but will not aid the ACL. That rope-like ligament is in the center of the knee and runs diagonally from the thigh bone to the shin bone.

If walking, jogging, cycling or swimming is your game, you can probably skip surgery, he says. But if you want to do anything other than move in a straight line, it's probably time to find a good surgeon. While the other knee ligaments might heal on their own, the ACL has poor blood circulation and is unlikely to do so.

Young female athletes are more at risk of damaging the ACL than males when they compete in similar sports, suggests research by the National Athletic Trainers' Association and the National Institutes of Health.

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