ACL Tears, Surgery, and Recovery

ACL Tears, Surgery, and Recovery

Carmen Canals, Staff Writer

The anterior cruciate ligament (otherwise known as the ACL) is one of the key ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint; it connects the femur to the tibia. This ligament is most commonly torn in sports that involve sudden stops, turns/ changes in direction. Some of these sports include soccer, tennis, volleyball, baseball, basketball, American football, etc.

When The ACL tears, you might be able to feel and hear the ligament snap, pop, and crackle, sort of like cracking all of your knuckles at the same time. To be able to assess the injury, an MRI will need to be taken, and then go from there. It is extremely recommended that the athlete has ACL reconstruction surgery to repair the ligament, or else it will be nearly impossible to play again, and other problems may pop up in the future. In surgery, the ACL is typically replaced by the PTG (the patellar tendon graft), although sometimes it is replaced by hamstring or cadaver grafts depending on the patient.

Before surgery, about a month of physical therapy is advised to help reduce swelling and gain as much mobility back in the knee as possible to help with pain and the recovery process after surgery. It will be painful and uncomfortable, but it will be nothing compared to the pain after surgery.

After surgery, the leg that had the surgery performed on will be wrapped all the way around with gauze and will be held by a brace that is the length of the whole leg. For a few hours post-surgery, there will be little to no pain as the nerve blocker that was administered before surgery is still functioning. However, after it has worn off, the patient will be overwhelmed with indescribable pain for the next one to two weeks. No amount of medicine, ice, or treatments will be able to calm down the intense agony. Any sort of movement will lead to immense discomfort and suffering, even if it is just a little bit. Some doctors recommend that the patient gets their knee drained to get rid of some of the fluid which helps with PT and pain, however, others recommend not getting it drained because it can mess with the muscles and ligaments in the knee.

Physical therapy starts up quickly after surgery, starting about a week later post-op. Therapy sessions twice or three times is needed to be able to get strength, balance and mobility back. If after 4 to 6 weeks the necessary amount of mobility is not gained back, which is about 125-135 degrees, the recovery process will become a lot harder and longer. The patient needs to be on the continuous passive motion machine (CPM) at least 8 hours a day to help get mobility back in the leg. After those 6 weeks have passed, therapy will start becoming more like a workout because of strength building exercises.

Recovery usually takes about 9-12 months after surgery, which is a long tedious and painful process but it is crucial to prevent the ACL from tearing again.