Which  Sport Has The Most (Highest Percentage) of ACL Tears?

Which Sport Has The Most (Highest Percentage) of ACL Tears?

As I am prone to point out, advances in medicine have made it possible for us to all but rule out the phrase “career-ending”. This is great news for our high school athletes who are looking to play their sport of choice of a long time at a high level.
— Dr. Sterett

ACL Tears By Percentage in High School Sports

We've talked often on this site about the dreaded ACL tear. One question that I hear often is "which sport has the most ACL tears?" 

Well, we know that ACL injuries will occur most often in what we call "agility" sports. This fact is even more true when we look at our young high school athletes. Unfortunately, an ACL tear can be a major setback the health and well-being of the young athlete.

However, as I am prone to point out, advances in medicine have made it possible for us to all but rule out the phrase "career-ending". This is great news for our high school athletes who are looking to play their sport of choice of a long time at a high level, both competitively and later on in life recreationally. 

 Let's go over some of the statistics here today to try to answer the question, "Which high school sport has the most ACL Tears?"

(Note: the primary reference for this article is a 2013 study comparing ACL injury statistics in High School Athletes. This is reflected in the fact that the sport of skiing doesn't rank high on the list, despite being a regular offender when it comes to ACL tears. I'll cover that topic at the end.)

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL - acl injury statistics

Basketball

5.5% (Males)

26.5% (Females)

And all that jumping and landing doesn’t always go perfectly, as we know from watching some of our favorite NBA stars go down to ACL Injuries.
— Dr. Sterett

"Hoops" is one of the most popular sports in the world, and for good reason. It's exciting, fast-paced, has lots of scoring. Basketball seems tailor made for the modern sports audience, which is one of the reason it continues to grow exponentially.  Additionally, it's a game that can be played at a highly competitive level, or just for fun on the local playground with few people. 

Basketball is also a game that is highly dependent on the act of jumping. And with all that jumping comes landing. And all that jumping and landing doesn't always go perfectly, as we know from watching some of our favorite NBA stars go down to ACL Injuries.

According to the 2013 Study referenced earlier,  entitled "A Multi-sport Epidemiologic Comparison of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in High School Athletics", we see the following stats:

  • about 5.5% of ACL injuries to male high school athletes occurred on the basketball court. 
  • About 26.5% of ACL injuries to female high school athletes occurred on the basketball court.

Here we see an example of a wide disparity between females and males when it comes to the rate of ACL tears. In general, I've got a lot to say about this topic, so if you're interested in finding out why females suffer a higher rate of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears than their male counterparts, please visit my site dedicated to the topic,  The Female ACL. 

It's also interesting to note that of those basketball-related ACL injuries, a far higher rate occurred during competition, not during practice situations. 

high school soccer - acl injury statistics

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Soccer

7.2% (Males)

53.2% (Females)

 

Ah, the world's most popular sport! And it continues to grow in popularity here in the USA as we get to see more and more coverage on our major sports networks. Who would have thought that we would see our young athletes supporting such "local" English teams such as Manchester City and West Ham United a few years ago? Soccer has definitely taken off at a huge rate in the states.

Unfortunately for those young athletes who are enjoying this exciting pastime on a competitive level, high school soccer is one of the top offenders when it comes to ACL tears. Here are the stats from the aforementioned study. 

  • For the young men, soccer was the sport second-most likely to result in an ACL tear, at 17.2%. 
  • For the young ladies, soccer is the top offender. A whopping 53.2% of injuries to the ACL in high school female athletes occurred playing soccer. 

High School Softball & high school volleyball ACL INjury Statistics

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Softball & Volleyball (Women)

Softball 11.4%, Volleyball 8.8%

Clearly softball is a high school sport exclusively played by women (the guys play baseball), and it's also high on our list of high school sports that see a high rate of ACL Tears in young ladies. And volleyball is a sport that continues to rise in popularity, featuring some of our top young female athletes. Here are the stats on ACL injuries in volleyball and softball:

  • Among young female high school athletes, 11.4% tore their ACL playing softball.
  • Among young female high school athletes, 8.8% tore their ACL playing volleyball.

Football (Males) - ACL Injury statistics

ACL-football

Football (Males)

71.2%

High school football is the big kahuna when it comes to ACL injuries in our young male athletes. You only have to watch a couple of minutes of football to see why it's a recipe for knee injuries.

Speed, twisting, cutting, collisions, and big strong bodies trying to impose their physical will upon one another means that knees end up in positions they don't belong in. 

So it's not surprise that when it comes to the guys, the study has football as the top offender for ACL tears by miles, coming in at almost 72%. Wow!

ACL Tears in high school sports - What's the Takeaway?

Which Sport Has the Most ACL Tears?

Guys = Football, Ladies = Soccer

Just by taking a look at the stats we see a couple of obvious things that stand out from an observational standpoint.

  1. The higher the rate of contact, the higher the rate of ACL injuries per sport.
  2. More bodies running around on the field = more injuries. Agility sports have more ACL tears.
  3. In sports which both boys and girls participate in, the ladies have higher rates of ACL tears.

For a WAY more in-depth look at this topic, please visit the study that was the source of our statistics, here. And to read more about ACL tears in females, click here.

Hey Doc, What About Skiing?

Skiing...

Clearly, skiing isn't a major factor as far as pure percentages when it comes to competitive high school sports. Most high schools don't even have a competitive ski team.

However, in the world I live in (and that's the world of high-level alpine ski racing), ACL tears are a frequent occurrence. These racers are pushing their knees to the limit, and ACL tears are almost part of the game. Not to mention all of the weekend warriors who are out there in the mountains shredding the gnar and tear up their knees.

I'm going to include a link to some of popular skiing articles below, and I'll dive into the topic of ACL injury stats amongst skiers at a later date!

Hope this was helpful!

Dr. Sterett


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