Each year, an estimated 200,000 people are sidelined by anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Of those 200,000 injuries, 100,000 require ACL reconstructive surgery. Typically those who play high-risk sports, such as basketball, football or soccer are more likely to experience an ACL injury. If you are an athlete, or even just someone who is active, it’s important to know how ACL injuries occur and what you can do to prevent them. Read below for more information on ACL injuries.
- How they happen: Most ACL injuries occur during high-risk sports, although it is estimated that only 30% of ACL injuries result from direct contact, while 70% happen via non-contact mechanisms. When athletes decelerate while cutting, pivoting or sidestepping, they can land in an awkward position, which compromises their ACL.
- Symptoms: When an athlete injuries their ACL, the symptoms are immediate. Most people will experience pain and swelling in the knee and, within a few hours of the injury, movement may be limited.
- Diagnosis: Anytime the ACL is injured, it’s crucial to see a doctor immediately. Typically a doctor will order X-rays to search for possible fractures and may also order a magnetic resonance imaging scan, also known as an MRI.
- Treatment: There are two options when it comes to treating an ACL injury: surgery and nonsurgical treatment. The treatment plan will depend on the extent of the injury. With physical therapy and rehabilitation, the knee can often be brought back to its pre-injury condition. A hinged knee brace is often used as a supplement to physical therapy. Those who choose to not have surgery may be at a higher risk of experiencing a second injury to the knee. With surgery, a substitute graft made of tendon replaces the torn ACL.
- Recovery: Coming back from ACL reconstructive surgery can take anywhere from four to six months. Utilizing physical therapy is crucial to a successful ACL surgery, and often physical therapy will begin immediately after surgery. When pain and swelling has fully subsided, the athlete may return to sports. It’s important for athletes to strengthen the quadriceps and hamstring muscles to prevent re-injuring the leg.
Most people think an ACL injury can be a career ender for athletes. However, with proper treatment, an athlete can regain the full strength of their knee pre-injury. Recovery time can also be accelerated with rigorous physical therapy and dedication to the doctor’s orders.