While the Concussion Bogeyman storyline is being advanced by the mainstream press there’s a real injury epidemic that’s brewing. This story doesn’t have the sizzle delivered by the combination of football and concussions, but it’s a growing problem with real statistics that make it a real concern. ACL injuries and the financial strain they put on our health care system are a much bigger problem than concussions.
Here’s a stat for you; Every year in the U.S. there are about 300,000 new ACL injuries and most of these injuries result in reconstructive surgery and extensive annual rehab at the cost of approximately $3 billion (yes, BILLION!).
Arthritis shows up in more than 50% of ACL-deficient knees as early as 5-to-15 years after surgery, which means that a huge portion of the population will suffer from severe joint problems and reduced quality of life. Extrapolate this data over the next decade and we have a serious problem, don’t we?
Otherwise healthy people, most of them in the prime of their lives, will be dealing with painful and sometimes debilitating arthritis. Using the known stats regarding ACL injuries, we can reasonably estimate that there will be millions of folks with arthritic knees experiencing a reduced quality of life in the very near future.
From the number of annual injuries it’s obvious that elite athletes are not the only people at risk of suffering an ACL blow-out. For a variety of reasons women have a higher risk factor of suffering a torn ACL. Women have a two to seven times higher risk for injury compared with men who play soccer and basketball.
Several key variables in the structure of the knee, and the structural differences between men and women, have been identified as risk factors for ACL injuries and in a large cohort study these risk factors allowed researchers to predict the risk of these injuries. Recreational athletes and professional athletes alike are all at risk, especially women, of experiencing an ACL blow-out.
There is no doubt that concussions are something to be concerned about for those who choose to play contact sports, but clearly this exploding problem with ACL injuries and the massive financial strain that it puts on the health care system is a situation should illicit equal – if not increased – concern.