For student-athletes of all ages, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can be a setback that sidelines them from their favorite sport and often requires surgery to fix. And while surgery is still the main treatment for a torn ACL, a new implant that helps this ligament heal itself is quickly becoming a game-changer in pediatric orthopedic care.
We talked with board-certified pediatric orthopedic surgeon Sean Keyes, DO, to learn more about this revolutionary implant and why it’s a better option for treating ACL tears in children and adolescents.
What Are ACL Tears?
ACL tears are among the most common knee injuries in the U.S. across professional and recreational sports. The ACL is one of four strong ligaments connecting the bones in the knee joint, and it can tear from movements like sudden stops, changes in direction, jumping and landing.
When an ACL tear happens, an athlete might hear or feel a “popping” sensation in the knee, followed by swelling, pain and instability within six hours. If an ACL tear is suspected, or if these symptoms develop, it’s important to see a doctor right away:
- Difficulty bending or straightening the knee
- Inability to support weight on the affected knee
- Knee pain or swelling lasting more than 48 hours
- Trouble walking on the knee
Torn ACLs typically require an evaluation from an orthopedic physician, an X-ray or MRI imaging to diagnose and ACL reconstruction surgery to treat. Because these injuries can be life-altering, especially in younger athletes, a quick diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan with a pediatric orthopedic physician are essential to recovery.
ACL Tears in Young Athletes Versus Adults
Repairing a torn ACL is often different for adolescents than adults for one main reason: “Young student-athletes aren’t done growing yet,” says Dr. Keyes, who treats children and teens under 18 with sports-related injuries. At AdventHealth for Children, Dr. Keyes specializes in care for growing athletes, focusing his expertise on the growth plate.
“Because a child’s growth plates are located directly adjacent to the knee joint, this complicates what would be a routine ACL reconstruction in an adult,” Dr. Keyes explains. Damage to the growth plates can lead to limb length discrepancies and angular deformities, so kids need specially designed techniques to reconstruct the ACL and preserve the growth plates.
As one of the team physicians for local high schools Bishop Moore, Edgewater and Jones, and a father of four kids involved in youth sports, Dr. Keyes is aware of the increasingly competitive nature of grade-school athletics and the pressures on growing kids.
“There are plenty of ways a middle- or high-school athlete might tear their ACL,” he says, “but because this is a serious injury for a skeletal system that’s still developing, young athletes need specialized care.”
And for Dr. Keyes and AdventHealth for Children, an important part of this customized care means pioneering innovative surgical solutions.
Healing ACL Tears in Kids With the BEAR® Implant
At AdventHealth for Children, we are one of the only hospitals in the country to offer the BEAR Implant, the first medical advancement that enables the body to heal its own torn ACL. Introduced in 2020 and approved for adults and kids ages 14 and up, this implant allows the ACL to repair itself instead of being surgically replaced with another tendon, like in traditional ACL reconstruction surgery.
How It Works
“The BEAR Implant acts as a bridge to rejoin the two ends of a torn ACL,” says Dr. Keyes, who was the first to perform a BEAR Implant procedure in Florida. An innovative biologic solution, the BEAR Implant uses a patient’s own blood to form a clot, which fuses the torn ends of the ACL.
The BEAR Implant creates an environment inside the knee that allows the ACL to heal. Without the implant, the knee enzymes and fluid would remove the healing factors for the ACL, preventing it from repairing the two torn ends.
About eight weeks after this quick outpatient procedure, the implant absorbs into the body, leaving in its place native cells, collagen and blood vessels that form a healed ACL. Key benefits of the revolutionary BEAR Implant include:
- Faster recovery of muscle strength
- Helps the ACL heal itself (preserves normal anatomy and function of the knee)
- Higher patient satisfaction with being ready to return to sports
- Less pain and a greater feeling of confidence in the knee
- No need for grafts from another part of the body (no second wound site to heal) or a donor
Why It’s Better for Kids
With benefits like these, the BEAR Implant is revolutionary for healing torn ACLs — and is especially beneficial for pediatric patients with bright futures ahead of them.
“Kids deserve to grow up healthy and strong as they play the sports they love,” Dr. Keyes says, “with the BEAR Implant, we’re able to offer young athletes with torn ACLs a more natural solution that works with their bodies as they continue growing,” Dr. Keyes explains.
Trust Central Florida’s Leading Orthopedic Care for Kids
Dr. Keyes has performed the most BEAR Implant procedures thus far of any surgeon in the country, right here at AdventHealth for Children, and is leading the way for other pediatric orthopedic surgeons nationwide to adopt this innovative procedure.
“The best part of my job is seeing adolescent athletes get back on the field with a smile on their face,” Dr. Keyes says. “When they come in for their follow-up visit with a video of them scoring a goal, that’s what it’s all about.”
With innovative surgical solutions and a team of caring pediatric orthopedic physicians like Dr. Keyes, we’re dedicated to helping your student-athlete heal from ACL injuries. Learn more about our pediatric orthopedic care at AdventHealth for Children and how we can help your child recover stronger.