On March 28, Kristen Garofalo found herself lying on the soccer field after going for the ball, with what she knew immediately was a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
One year earlier, the Susquehannock junior was in the same situation.
“The first time I was upset. [Tearing my second ACL] was the most devastating thing — possibly not playing ever again,” said Kristen.
Missing another season was the heart-wrenching aspect of her injury. The surgery and long recovery were the grueling realities.
Kristen is just one of 3.5 million children and teens who will face a serious sports injury, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Michael Sicuranza M.D. of Orthopaedic and Spine Specialists in York said that knee and shoulder injuries constitute 95 percent of the serious injuries he treats in young athletes.
Serious injuries affect both an athlete’s body and psyche.
“Today in society, kids, parents, coaches, sports agents — everybody puts huge responsibilities and expectations on the kids,” Sicuranza said. “[An injury] can be a very significant psychological factor. You see kids with just frank depression.”
Kevin A. Burke, a physical therapist at Kings and Associates Physical Therapy in Shrewsbury, said that the athlete’s unrealistic time frame for recovery is another factor contributing to why he or she becomes so distraught.
“Today in the NFL, you see people come back full speed very quickly. Realistically that is not a normal time frame. So I have a lot of kids that come in and are pretty much miserable because they thought it would be a week or two and they would be back to playing, and it is really going to be the whole season,” Burke said. “Getting kids to understand that is very challenging.”
It is not just the serious injuries that affect teens later in life.
“I think you pay a price for playing those sports even if you don’t have a major injury,” Sicuranza said. “Even if you start at a young age and play sports through your mid-20s, you substantially affected the nature [of the joints]. There is a very specific and dramatic effect on the joint.”
He said many adults he sees have symptoms from an old injury: “In ages 30-50 [it] is a significant factor.”
Even though these injuries might seem inevitable and unpredictable, there is a solution: cross-training.
Sicuranza said teen athletes are spending increasing amounts of time on their sport, but neglecting the basic strength training.
“Part of every sport needs to be cross-training with emphasis on strengthening equally,” he said. “The weakness and imbalance makes all the difference.”