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Knee injuries and girls: lessons from my 10-year-old daughter

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I’m no physician, but I feel like I’ve become a little bit of an expert on noncontact athletic knee injuries suffered by girls. That’s because today, for the second time since February, I took my 10-year-old daughter to the doctor because she had sprained her left knee playing basketball. In that sense, I am becoming an expert in girls’ knees the same way I became an expert in the cars I drove in high school: because the same parts kept breaking down.

Tomorrow I take my daughter to her first appointment with an orthopedist, who will find out (hopefully) exactly why this same knee keeps getting hurt. In the short term, I know she’s worried about getting well before her softball league games start April 27 (and given the frantic messages I’ve gotten from her coach, he’s worried about it, too — hey, it’s my kid and my blog, so I can brag!), and so she can get back to her musical theater rehearsals. (Once she got her crutches today, she spent most of the afternoon walking around with them outside, fighting my entreaties to get back in and rest her knee.)

However, my wife and I are more worried that someday she’s going to need more than crutches and Ace bandages to take care of that left knee. Hence, why I’m planning on asking the orthopedist about any physical therapy or structural problems that might be causing my daughter to hurt that same knee.

As anyone who has watched women’s college basketball and its high knee-brace content knows, female athlete knees are more susceptible to injury than those of their male counterparts. Without using phrases like “narrow femoral arch,” researchers believe there are physical reasons why this happens. In particular, girls and women are more at risk of tearing their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), especially after puberty. The ACL connects the femur and the tibia behind the kneecap, which is why when that sucker gets torn, you see athletes writing in so much pain. ACL injuries are commonly caused without contact, through twisting or jumping. Each time my daughter got hurt, she reported feeling pain after jumping.

I’ve become enough of an Internet expert on girls’ knee injuries to know that a common reason jumping is a problem is because of how many girls land. Mainly, the problem is that girls are more likely to jump with their knees pointed together, creating more stress on them upon landing. Do that enough times, and the ACL starts to tear, and when it tears enough, it pops. And when it pops — the pain!

We’ll find out at the orthopedist whether this is the root of my daughter’s problem, particularly because she noticed the pain after a jump, with no contact from anyone else. If the orthopedist doesn’t check that, I might have to break out my Internet Expert’s License and tell him. Although, technically, I don’t know for sure that it’s the ACL. It seems like it, given her complaints of pain under the kneecap, although I don’t know if that’s why her left kneecap seemed to move a lot more, and disturbingly, freely than the right when her pediatrician manipulated it today.

I might be a budding Internet expert, but that only will take me so far in trying to ensure my 10-year-old daughter isn’t having major knee surgery by age 13. Eventually, I was able to afford to buy cars that allowed me not to learn so much about how they fail. Hopefully, my daughter is on the road to allowing me to spend less time becoming an expert in how girls’ knees fail.

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