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Getting Active Again After an ACL Injury

Perhaps you are in the heat of the moment, running or leaping in full swing, and you make one wrong move on the field. In that instant, you tear your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). The injury produces a lot of pain, but it also makes you worry about how your knee joint can recover. In most cases, your injury will heal back to the way things were with the proper treatment.

The The Woodlands Sports Medicine Centre prides itself in assisting patients with various kinds of sports-related injuries. Based in The Woodlands, Texas our specialists provide treatment and rehabilitation to get your body back in shape, so you can return to your active lifestyle.

About your torn ACL

Your ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee that connect your thigh bone (femur) with your shin bone (tibia). Your ACL crosses your posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) to form an X. This X prevents your knee joint from sliding back to front, or front to back. Your ACL also prevents your knee from rotating when your foot is planted and your leg pivots. 

A torn ACL usually occurs during a sports- or fitness-related activity. When your foot is firmly planted on the ground and your leg pivots at the same time, you can stretch or tear your ACL. This injury often happens in sports when a sudden change in direction stresses the ligament. Most cases occur in basketball, American football, soccer, and gymnastics. An ACL injury can also occur when the tibia is pushed forward in relation to the femur as seen during skiing incidents. Women are more likely to develop an ACL injury than men. 

Examining your injury

Diagnosing a torn ACL requires a physical examination. During the examination we look for swelling, bruising, or deformity. We’ll assess whether one or more ligaments in your knee have suffered damage. We may examine the unaffected knee for comparison. Along with your physical, we may take X-rays and MRI scans to distinguish between bone and ligament fractures.

Conditions that require surgery

After reaching a diagnosis, we determine whether your injury requires reconstructive surgery. This all depends on the level of physical activity you performed before the incident and your plans for returning to the same level of physical activity after recovery, along with your general health. Having surgery requires months of physical therapy and rehabilitation. 

Patients who don’t plan to perform extraneous physical activity like running, jumping, or pivoting benefit more from nonsurgical treatments and physical therapy to return to regular function. Young athletes, on the other hand, benefit more from arthroscopic surgery to reduce the potential for knee instability. 

Post-op care

After the surgery you’ll be sent home the same day. It is normal to start practicing to walk with crutches and to get fitted for a knee brace or splint. We suggest you use the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will alleviate swelling. 

Physical therapy 

The surgery is usually conducted within five months of the injury. After the surgery, we suggest a rehabilitation and physical exercise program that focuses on strengthening your leg muscles. It may take six to nine months for you to return to full activity following the surgery. 

  1. The first three weeks of physical therapy focus on gradually increasing your range of motion. The new ligament needs time to heal, therefore a controlled and steady exercise will protect your knee joint from harm. By the end of this period, the goal is to have your knee capable of bending and flexing at 90 degrees. 
  2. By week six, your knee should be able to have a full range of motion. This marks the beginning of exercises that focus on strengthening the surrounding leg muscles --  primarily your quadriceps and hamstring. 
  3. For the next four to six months, the focus of the program is to restore your knee function to the way it was before the injury. This means strength and agility exercises. Your physical therapist and surgeon will perform assessments to monitor that your knee is completely healed. 

Tips for a speedy recovery 

Understanding and following your doctor’s instructions is important for a speedy recovery. You must know what to look for in case of infection or adverse side effects: 

Recovery times can vary depending on the patient. Some recoveries are slower than others. In these cases, it’s important to consult with your doctor to ensure your recovery is going smoothly. 

If you’ve suffered from an ACL injury, please call The Woodlands Sports Medicine Centre or book an appointment online.

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