Life after an ACL injury
Have you been sidelined by an ACL injury?
If you’ve injured your knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), you probably know it. An ACL injury occurs when you experience a small or medium tear of your ACL, a complete tear of your ACL (rupture), a separation of your ACL from either the upper or lower leg bone (avulsion), or a separation of the ligament and part of the bone from the rest of the bone (avulsion fracture).
Whenever any of these injuries happen, your lower leg bone pushes abnormally on your upper leg bone, shifting forward and causing your knee to give out or buckle. You may hear or feel a pop, and, when your knee gives out, you might fall. After that, your knee will swell and be too painful or unstable to move.
If you’re a professional athlete, an ACL injury can sideline you for months and end your season. For most people, however, an ACL injury is a painful inconvenience that can be corrected through surgery and rehabilitation. The good news is that there’s life after ACL surgery. With a solid rehabilitation program, you can soon return to the active life you enjoyed before your injury.
What happens during ACL surgery?
During ACL surgery, the surgeon will repair or replace your damaged ACL with tissue. This tissue is known as a graft. Typically, the surgeon will use an autograft, or tendon tissue taken from another part of the body. In some instances, such as when treating an avulsion fracture, the surgeon will also need to reattach the bone fragment connected to the ACL to the leg bone itself.
Most ACL surgeries are minimally invasive arthroscopic surgeries. They are performed using special instruments inserted through small incisions in the knee. Open surgery, in which the surgeon must make a large incision to access the interior of the knee, is sometimes required.
ACL surgery aims to achieve five goals.
- To restore normal or close-to-normal stability to your knee.
- To restore the level of knee function you had before suffering your ACL injury. This is especially important for athletes.
- To limit the loss of knee function.
- To prevent injury or degeneration to other parts of the knee.
- To reduce pain.
Most of the time, patients experience positive results following ACL surgery. Their pain subsides, good knee function and stability are restored and they can participate in the activities they enjoyed prior to their injury. In fact, many professional athletes can usually start playing sports again within a few months, depending on the intensity and medical focus of their rehabilitation program.
The ABCs of rehabilitation
After surgery comes rehabilitation. Rehabilitation involves exercises intended to restore your knee function. Combined with surgery, rehabilitation can be your best option when it comes to getting your knee back to normal, letting you participate in an active lifestyle without pain or loss of strength and movement. Without participating in a rehabilitation program, your surgically repaired knee may never fully heal and function normally.
Complete healing of your knee depends on few factors:
- The condition of your ACL before your injury. If you’ve experienced prior injuries, partial tears, ACL deficiency or joint deterioration due to aging, those factors can all affect how your injury heals.
- Your knee’s overall condition and health before the injury.
- How badly the injury has damaged your ACL. Injuries are typically qualified as grade I, II or III.
- If you’ve damaged other parts of your knee, like the cartilage, menisci or bones in the knee.
- Your age, your activity level and your commitment to treatment and rehabilitation.
- How quickly your injury was diagnosed. If you walked around on an injured knee for some time before seeking treatment, you may have caused additional damage.
If you undergo a minor ACL injury, you’ll probably begin treatment with a physical rehabilitation program to build strength and flexibility in the muscles on the front and back of your thigh. Most people end up getting back to their normal activities after a few weeks of rehabilitation. If the injury is more serious, you could need several months of rehabilitation to regain full knee strength, stability and range of motion.
A few key healing tips
Rehabilitation does a great deal to return your knee to good working order. However, there are three things to keep in mind while rehabilitating to prevent this important joint from becoming injured again.
- Keep the pressure off. Don’t put too much weight on the nerves in your knee.
- Make sure you body has all the resources it needs to heal your knee. That means eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated and taking necessary supplements to reduce inflammation in your knee.
- Remember that healing isn’t always a linear process. Just remember that following instructions one and two will help you continue to heal even when you’re experiencing pain.
Learn more about treating your ACL injury
If you think you might have injured your ACL and would like to learn more about possible treatment options, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today by submitting an online form or calling one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.