When a high school athlete has designed their identity around a sport and the potential of a future in collegiate athletics, suffering an ACL tear can feel like the body’s ultimate betrayal. An ACL tear is a traumatic and painful injury that can leave an athlete on the sidelines for up to a year, seriously delaying any progress they might have been making in their sport. But multiple ACL tears, one right after the other, can be devastating for a promising high school athlete not only physically, but emotionally as well.
Just a few decades ago, a child tearing their ACL would lead to years of reduced activity and inability to participate in sports. Surgical reconstruction was not an option, given that the procedure required drilling through the growth plate, and would disrupt future growth in the child’s affected leg.
But in 1976, Lyle Micheli, MD, director of the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s Hospital, pioneered a new growth plate-sparing ACL reconstruction procedure for growing children. Known as physeal-sparing ACL reconstruction, the procedure has been used to reconstruct ACLs in prepubescent kids at Boston Children’s ever since.
This is the procedure that Nate — a 12-year-old star baseball player at the time — underwent in 2013, after tearing his ACL playing football. Rather than rush into an ACL reconstruction surgery in their home state of Maine, Nate’s family researched the best ACL surgeons, and were ultimately referred to Mininder Kocher, MD, MPH, associate director of the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s. …
In recent years, sports specialization has become a hot topic amongst both parents of young athletes and medical professionals. There are a lot of questions swirling around early specialization: When should my child begin to focus on just one sport year-round? Are there injury risks associated with specialization? Does specializing in one sport provide a significant benefit for their skill development?
While answers to these questions aren’t always straightforward, in a recent study Dr. Mininder Kocher, an orthopedic surgeon and associate director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division, found some compelling evidence of the risks of early sports specialization.
It’s August during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Abbey D’Agostino is a runner in the 5,000-meter preliminary heat. She smiles and waves at the camera as it pans in front of the participants at their starting blocks — a positive, self-assured smile that stands out amongst the competitive grimaces around her. In this moment, she is where all track and field athletes aspire to be — at the pinnacle of their sport in an Olympic stadium.