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The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most well-known of ligaments in the human body these days. Hardly a week goes by without hearing about some athlete at some level of sports who has torn his or her ACL. It’s an extremely important ligament because it connects your femur to your tibia (in layman’s terms, your thighbone to your shinbone).

The knee is also comprised of the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). That’s not counting the lateral meniscus and medial meniscus, which are not quite as crucial, but still oft injured. Take a look at your knee and think about all the alphabet soup which makes up the parts of that joint that we take for granted.

Anyone with knee pain does not take it for granted though. I had some issues about a decade ago where I would be in pain for 2-3 days following any umpiring or officiating. That wasn’t going to work well in an active lifestyle, and I was concerned that one of those many components of my knee had a tear. After an MRI, it was determined that I had a lot of fluid build-up, likely from years of activity and diving around on ballfields and basketball courts. The solution? Wear a knee brace when I’m active, and it’s worked pretty well.

Michelle tore her lateral meniscus a year ago and had surgery to have it removed. Sometimes that tear is not a big deal, but hers was flipped around and causing extreme pain. Doctors cannot fix a torn meniscus, and my wife has managed just fine without it. Another reason the knee is so complicated: why have it if you don’t need it?

Here’s a larger question: why do there seem to be so many more knee injuries these days, especially in our youth? Growing up, can any of you remember someone who tore their ACL? I’m sure it happened, but not anywhere near the frequency of today.

There are plenty of injuries that are considered acute injuries, meaning some trauma has occurred, whether it’s another player landing on you, a sudden awkward fall, or another happening that was unexpected and not routine. When Jayna broke her arm, it was from falling off her bike. When I broke my elbow, I landed directly on it falling down after a shot in basketball. These are unavoidable.

However, there are also overuse injuries, and I think this is where so many tears and sprains come into play today. I haven’t found any conclusive studies done on this, but when you look at some of the history of youth sports, overuse would be a common theme.

I’ve written before about the importance of not just focusing on one sport, but we also have the overabundance of year-round opportunities for kids who not only play 2-3 sports, but play them far outside their seasons. Volleyball and basketball can become 12-month sports if one so desires. Soccer and gymnastics also can be run most months. There are even winter baseball and softball leagues indoors.

Why is this bad? Isn’t it good for kids to have more chances to get better at the sports they love? Maybe not. When I see kids run from school to sports practice after school to a different sports practice somewhere else, that’s concerning. We certainly want to keep kids active; it’s better than sitting in front of a screen incessantly. But kids also need downtime. If they go, go, go, something has to give, and it’s often parts of those precious joints that hold us together.

Really major knee injuries should really only occur in young people because of acute trauma. But so many are tearing ligaments with a wrong step or turn, and one can’t help but wonder if those ligaments have been so overused already that they’re easier to tear. Again, there’s no conclusive evidence yet about that, but it makes me go hmmm.

One problem is there is more and more pressure on coaches and kids to keep improving and get to a high level of competition. Coaches have access to their players for much of the summer, a time that used to be off-limits. Whether they want to or not, if a coach does not have summer-long activities, he or she will be questioned if the team does not succeed. Again, there’s a point where kids can be too active.

In addition, we’re making active time too organized. Remember when we just would run around and organize our own games and activities? When things are too structured all the time, that too can lead to overuse; the kids are often being very repetitive instead of being creative and changing things up.

I did have someone remind me that sports today, especially for girls, are much more physical and competitive. Still, I wonder if we scaled back just a bit, if we might keep our kids more healthy. Either way, it’s unfortunate that we have to worry about the ABCs of our bodies so much and not just those in books.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is macrology, which means long and tiresome talk, as in, “The coach was sick of the macrology she was hearing about her players participating in too many games year-round.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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