ACL Reconstruction in Pro Sports
No Longer a Career-Ender
Love him or hate him—and opinions are, of course, fiercely divided—New England Patriots Quarterback, Tom Brady, is bound for the NFL Hall of Fame. At the helm of the most decorated football franchise of the 21st Century, he somehow still continues to be a crafty, tough, and smart playmaker, and his team is perennially a contender. But, in the first game of the 2008-9 campaign, Brady took a hard hit right to the knee, rupturing both his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial cruciate ligament (MCL), ending his season. 
This was brutal news both for Brady, who was fresh off of an MVP season, and the organization as a whole. Conventional thinking was that, despite timely ACL reconstruction surgery, he’d never return the same and that his already storied career was coming to a close. And while Brady was out for the remainder of that season—recovery from this kind of surgery takes anywhere from six to nine months—it’s safe to say he made a solid comeback, including championships in 2015 and 2017.
In fact, cases like Brady’s are no longer uncommon; due to advances in surgical approaches, ACL reconstruction just isn’t as damaging and poorly tolerated as it once was. Let’s see what’s happened.
Better Tools, Better Outcomes
ACL reconstruction involves the surgical repair of the tendon that crosses just below the knee cap via graft. Players of sports that feature quick turns and changes of direction—such as football or basketball—are especially prone to injury here.  Twenty years ago, full recovery from this surgery, as any professional athlete would need, was rare. Sports fans can point to the careers of standout players like football player Terrell Davis or former NBA MVP Derrick Rose to see the impact.
But things have changed. According to one study, 74 percent of injured NFL players were able to return to the field after ACL reconstruction.  The numbers get even better for baseball pros, as no less than 90 percent are able to return to the diamond.  What accounts for such improved numbers? Mostly this has to do with methods that have become more accurate and less-invasive than those in the past. Arthroscopic approaches, for instance, which involve the use of specialized cameras to track work in real time, involve smaller incisions. This means easier and less-involved recovery.
Competition & Day-to-Day Living
Unfortunately, the above studies also point out that for professional athletes not named Tom Brady there is some fallout. For instance, in the four years after ACL injury, NFL players earned an average of over $2 million less than uninjured controls.  Further, above-average football players most often returned as comparatively average athletes after rehabilitation.  There definitely is an impact with this kind of injury, at least for those whose careers depend on elite athletic prowess.
It should be noted, though, that among most of us—those who aren’t professional athletes—the outcomes for ACL reconstruction are strong and improving. Recent estimates are that these procedures are about 85 to 90 percent effective;  a vast majority of weekend or rec-center athletes are able to get back out there. Outcomes, of course, depend on a couple factors, including the right experts as well as careful adherence to rehabilitation.
The Right Step Forward
While not everyone gets to be a perennial championship contender like Tom Brady, those with ACL injuries should know that they can indeed make a Brady-like come back. As with all aspects of orthopedic surgery, tools and techniques today are better than they’ve ever been before. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but it is manageable, especially if you’ve got the right team on your side. There’s no reason to think that an injured ACL is the end of anything; treatment is the first step back towards the playing field.
If you’ve suffered ACL injury or are experiencing any other kind of knee pain, the team at Onward Orthopedics can help. These experts employ the latest and best in minimally-invasive surgical techniques to ensure positive outcomes for their patients. Learn more about what they do by calling (800) 577-1693 today!
- “How Tom Brady’s Career Almost Ended In 2008”. 2018. Verywell Health. Accessed December 7 2018. https://www.verywellhealth.com/tom-brady-acl-tear-2549373.
- McMahan, Ian. 2017. “An ACL Injury Is No Longer A Career Killer, But Can Athletes Ever Truly Be The Same?”. The Guardian. Accessed December 7 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/may/11/acl-injuries-sports-athletes-careers.
- Read, Connor R., Aune, Kyle T., Cain, E. Lyle, Fleisig, Glenn S. “Return To Play And Decreased Performance After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction In National Football League Defensive Players”. 2017. The American Journal Of Sports Medicine. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546517703361.
- Wahl, Suzanne & Wahl, Christopher J. 2017. “How Successful Is ACL Reconstruction, Really?”. Christopher J. Wahl, MD | SPORTS MEDICINE SURGEON. Accessed December 7 2018. http://www.wahlmd.com/dr-wahl-blog/how-successful-is-acl-reconstruction.