It’s not often that two family members end up with the same injuries just a year apart, but for Grayslake sisters Kara and Kayla Podgorski, it was a time they will never forget.
Both competitive athletes, the sisters’ athletic careers were stopped short by injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a ligament in the knee which aids in rotation and stability.
Kara (19) is a gymnast and tore her ACL and meniscus while competing at a national high school competition. Kayla (17) tore her ACL while cheerleading for Carmel Catholic in Mundelein.
Whether on the field, the court or the floor, 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.
After receiving a referral from a relative, both girls visited Nikhil Verma, MD, sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) and team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. Dr. Verma is concerned with the rising number of young athletes, like Kara and Kayla, who are enduring ACL injuries.
“The increase in children playing competitive sports has resulted in an increase in injuries,” says Dr. Verma. “Often young, competitive athletes push themselves too hard and don’t take time to rest, says Dr. Verma. “They frequently play one sport year round and use the same muscles over and over again, which puts stress on the body and makes them more vulnerable to injuries.”
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.
Kara and Kayla are 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 different skeletal structures in girls that angle their knees inward and incline the tibiae backward, making female bodies less able to endure stress, and even hormones, as reasons why there are more ACL tears among females than males.
Luckily, the Podgorski sisters were able to return to their respective sports. Kara was released from physical therapy only four months after surgery and Kayla was able to continue cheerleading just six months after her surgery.
Both Kara and Kayla are fully recovered 100 percent in their knees. Kayla is considering cheerleading in college next year and is just as competitive as she was before her injury.