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Youth Athlete Returns to Soccer after ACL Surgery

Unique Mann, a Frankfurt resident and competitive soccer player who had a series of anterior cruciate ligament, ACL, injuries that could have been career-ending, was able to turn a very tough situation 
into a positive one. During her junior high and high school years, Unique was recovering from ACL injuries on both knees. After her last surgery, it was questionable whether she would be able to play at the same level. But that didn’t stop her. She excelled in high school soccer and was recruited to play competitive soccer at Monmouth College, where 
she is now a freshman on the team. She recently broke the Monmouth school record for girls by squatting 255 pounds!

Unique’s situation isn’t unique. Whether on the field or court, there’s no mistaking the dreaded “pop” when an athlete tears an ACL. Nationwide, about 400,000 athletes are hit by ACL tears every year. Experts say that number continues to rise, in part because of muscle overuse from playing one sport year round and the lack of good training and coaching. 

Dr. Nikhil Verma, MD, Unique’s orthopedic surgeon who is a sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) and team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, is delighted with her progress. He says that Unique was one of the lucky ones. Dr. Verma is concerned with the rising number of young athletes, like Unique, who are enduring ACL injuries. He attributes it to overuse of the muscles from playing one sport all year round and not taking time to rest in between practices and competitions. Unique’s mother said from an early age, Unique played soccer all the time and rarely took breaks. She practiced several times a week and competed in up to six games every weekend. It’s not surprising that her knees gave out on the field. 

Physicians at MOR documented a 71 percent increase in ACL surgeries over the past six years. But, what’s more troubling, is the growing number of young athletes who are sidelined because of ACL tears. MOR physicians noticed a huge jump -- 83 percent -- in the number of ACL surgeries in the 25 and under age group over the past six years. 
Last year alone, MOR performed nearly 600 ACL procedures – that’s one of the highest number of ACL surgeries of any orthopedic practice in Illinois. But there’s good news too. A recent study done by physicians at MOR shows that there is a 77 percent return to sport rate in soccer athletes after ACL reconstruction surgery. 

Unique is not alone among young female athletes. The physiological makeup of females puts them at higher risk for ACL injuries. A study by The American Academy of Pediatrics showed girls are up to eight times more at risk of an ACL tear than boys. Additional studies point towards factors such as hormones and skeletal structures that make female bodies less able to endure stress, as reasons why there are more ACL
tears in females than males.

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