AUSTIN -- Any parent will tell you -- watching their children play competitive sports can be far more nerve-racking than when they played. That's especially true for those parents who are watching from the stands when their children get injured.
Adding to the concern is what doctors say is the growing number of adult-type injuries suffered by kids and teens. The most startling injury increase pediatric surgeons are seeing involves the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee.
14-year-old Elizabeth Esper plays soccer for Leander High School and her club soccer team.
"I started playing when I was young and just never stopped," she said. "It's become a passion."
Esper is equally aware of the injury risks that come with the sport.
"I know that injuries are always going to be a part of the sport that I play," said Esper. "If I go into a hard tackle or if my knee is ever hurting I'm thinking, 'OK, this isn't good.'"
Whether it's due to year-round sports or better medical recognition, doctors say they're seeing more adult-like injuries in kids and teens -- especially ACL injuries in girls.
"Female athletes are four to seven times more likely to tear their ACL than male athletes," said Catherine Sargent, M.D., a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist with Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics. "Part of it is how we're built and how our muscles develop."
It's why Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics brought the ACL Prevention Program from California and began implementing it in Central Texas. Young female athletes are taught the proper way to jump, turn, pivot and build muscle memory. The techniques strengthen their legs and core.
"The first year I went in and my hamstrings and everything were just so weak, and I came out so much stronger," said Esper.
"I saw the results," said Denise Esper, Elizabeth's mother. "I saw the difference. I saw the strength in her core and how she was more stable."
Denise Esper says the the ACL Prevention Program not only makes sense physically, it makes dollars and cents, too.
"It's $300 versus an ACL injury that would be more like $20-thousand by the time you did the rehab, the surgery itself and so forth, so it seemed like a good investment." she said.
"At the beginning I had to think about it, but now it's more muscle memory," said Elizabeth. "I don't have to think about it as much. Honestly, you just feel so much stronger when you come out, and it's really helped."
When an ACL injury does occur in young athletes, Sargent is the only Central Texas Pediatric Surgeon who performs a physeal surgery, which avoids putting large holes in the growth plates on each side of the knee.
She says research shows young athletes who undergo this procedure are less likely to require traditional ACL repair once they become adults.
For more information on Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics, visit their website.