• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Doctors use new tech to save kids' knees

July 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Teen athletes don't always play for fun -- they play to win. With state titles and college scholarships on the line, more kids are pushing themselves and their bodies to the limit. But all that practice and training can take a toll on young bodies, especially knees. So doctors are trying new ways to save their knees now so they can continue to play later. Nathan Green knows it takes a lot of foot work and hard work to become a top player.

"I'm just kind of good at it, so it just kind of stuck," said Nathan.

But his dreams of college soccer were almost wiped out.

"I heard a pop and I just went down," said Nathan.

Nathan tore his ACL. At his age, traditional surgeries would damage his growth plates. Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Eric Wall at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital developed a way to reconstruct young tendons. Dr. Wall used Nathan's hamstring to create a new ACL. The new procedure avoids any contact with his growth plate.

"In an adult, the tunnel goes up this way and crosses through the growth plate. This way the tunnel goes horizontally across his knee and the tunnel is drilled beneath the growth plate, so it doesn't touch the growth plate or doesn't cross the growth plate," said Dr. Eric Wall.

Jacob Sorger suffers from a less common but just as painful problem -- juvenile osteochondritis dissecans or JOCD, which is caused by pressure on immature bones.

"I couldn't even walk up the steps when I got home, it was hurting that bad," said Sorger.

Dr. Wall took a bone graft from Jacob's hip and transferred it into his knees with this small tube.

"That bone graft supplies stem cells to grow new bone and it supplies bone cells to grow new bone. This is the one chance we have to actually cure a problem and get the knee back to normal," said Dr. Wall.

And it worked, now both boys are back up and running.

Rehab took about six months before both boys were able to play soccer, but that's better than their other option -- which doctors say would be to not play at all.

Web Extra Information: Saving Kids' Knees

BACKGROUND:

More and more, kids are overexerting their bodies in competitive sports. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries every year. Most of these injuries occur during unorganized or informal sports activities, with 30 percent of parents reporting their child has been injured while playing a team sport. Half of them say their child has been injured more than once. Most organized sports-related injuries occur during practices rather than games. Most sports injuries in kids can be attributed to immature bones, insufficient rest after injury, and poor training or conditioning. During the teenage years, girls are more likely to suffer sports injuries than boys. Experts attribute the tendency to increased estrogen -- which adds fat rather than muscle and makes ligaments lax -- as well as the less-flexed, more upright running position of girls. In addition, because of wider hips, girls are more likely to be knock-kneed (Source: New York Times).

WHAT'S JOCD:

Juvenile Osteochondritis Dissecans (JOCD) occurs in young people when their growth plates haven't closed yet. The condition causes a piece of bone and the piece of cartilage that covers it to come loose and float around inside a joint like the knee. JOCD usually affects active children and young adolescents. Although it can lead to arthritis, children with the condition normally do very well long-term. Symptoms including joint "locking," stiffness and swelling. Treatment for JOCD usually involves rest and casting, but kids with chronic JOCD or a large affected area may need surgery (Source: Children's Memorial Hospital Institute for Sports Medicine). A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says with conservative treatment alone, 50 percent of children with JOCD will heal to form a normal knee in adulthood.

KIDS AND ACL TEARS:

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the knee's four main ligaments. A sudden, abrupt change in force to the knee can cause it to tear, and unfortunately, the ligament has virtually no capacity to heal itself once torn. Because of the ligament's inability to heal, surgeons repair the tear by substituting a nearby tendon -- such as from the hamstring -- for the damaged one. Because this type of surgery involves going through the growth plates of the leg bone and thigh bone, it can cause growth of the leg to slow. For this reason, doctors usually recommend a patient wait until they reach near skeletal maturity to undergo ACL reconstruction surgery.

Report Typo |  Send Tip |  Get Alerts | Most Popular
Follow @abc7 on Twitter  |  Become a fan on Facebook


Load Comments