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Knee surgery in teens may lead to arthritis later in life

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Adolescents who have anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction – a type of surgery that uses a graft to replace a torn ligament in the center of the knee – are at greater risk for osteoarthritis later in life, suggests a small study presented at the March 15 American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) Specialty Day meeting in New Orleans.

ACL injuries are most likely to occur among high school football players and female soccer players, according to Medscape. ACL tears are also common in athletes who participate in basketball, baseball and skiing.

“Long-term follow-ups after the surgical treatment of ACL injuries in kids are rare and this is one of the first studies that has been able to track these individuals,” lead author Ollie Mansson, MD, of the NU-Hospital Group in Uddevalla, Sweden, said in an AOSSM news release.

The study followed 32 patients who were 12 to 16 years old at the time of their ACL reconstruction and who were then assessed 10 to 20 years after their surgery. Researchers found evidence of osteoarthritis in 65 percent of the surgically treated knees, compared with 14 percent of the non-injured knees. Quality of life and other health-related scores were the same or comparable to those seen in healthy controls.

“Early reconstruction of ACLs is often the trend for young more skeletally mature athletes to restore knee stability and prevent progressive meniscal and/or cartilage damage,” said Mansson.

“Often these procedures do allow individuals to return to the playing field and continue an active lifestyle. However, it is still important to evaluate long-term effects such as osteoarthritis when considering surgeries for these pediatric patients,” cautioned Mansson.