You don’t have to be an athlete to tear your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This grueling and potentially life-changing injury affects up to 200,000 athletes and nonathletes every year. While you have a higher risk of experiencing an ACL tear if you participate in fast-moving sports, such as football or soccer, an ACL tear can also occur as the result of a work accident or household mishap.
No matter the cause of an ACL tear, recovery often requires the care of an orthopedic surgeon. In this blog, orthopedic surgeon Robert Douglas Bostick III, MD, of Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Metairie, Louisiana, discusses what typical recovery from an ACL tear can involve.
The basics of ACL tears and treatment
Your ACL is a ligament that runs diagonally in the anterior, or front, center area of your knee. This ligament connects your thigh bone to your shinbone. When it’s intact, your ACL provides rotational stability to your knee when you walk, run, and jump. And if it tears, it can tear partially or completely.
Treatment for an ACL tear varies by individual. Various factors, such as the extent of your ACL tear, along with your age, overall health, lifestyle, and long-term goals, are considered when recommending an appropriate course of treatment.
If you’re elderly or don’t lead an active lifestyle, your treatment may be limited to conservative strategies if the overall stability of your knee is intact. However, if you participate in any type of competitive sport or lead a physically active lifestyle, you’ll likely require surgery to reconstruct your torn ACL and resume your normal activities.
The amount of time it takes to recover depends on many factors regarding your condition and treatment. It’s not uncommon for it to take 6-9 months to fully recover from an ACL tear.
Conservative treatments can often improve ACL tears, but if the tear is complete or severe, surgical repair is often necessary. However, nonsurgical treatments are often used alone, or, if needed, in conjunction with surgery. Here are some of the nonsurgical treatments that are often recommended for ACL tears:
Employing the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation, can help relieve pain and inflammation.
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and inflammation.
Bracing the knee or using a cane can help reduce stress on the injury.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation
Physical therapy and rehabilitation can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee and increase leg strength. Physical therapy is progressive, meaning the exercises intensify as you heal.
You may also need education on how to move correctly to prevent instability and avoid a secondary injury to your knee.
Surgery for an ACL tear often involves removing the damaged portion of the ACL and grafting a new ligament in its place. The graft can come from your own body, a donor, or a synthetic material.
Depending on the extent of your injury, this procedure can be performed with arthroscopic techniques. Arthroscopic surgery involves using miniature cameras, thin surgical equipment, and small incisions. This approach typically involves less cutting, fewer complications, and a shorter recovery period than traditional surgery.
Most patients who undergo this type of surgery go home the same day after recovering from anesthesia. You’ll likely leave with crutches to avoid putting stress on the affected knee. During your recovery, you may also have to wear a splint or knee brace to protect the graft while your knee heals.
You’ll also receive a personalized care plan that will involve some of the conservative treatments listed earlier.
The first step in recovering from an ACL tear is getting an accurate diagnosis of your condition. To begin your journey toward healing, call 504-541-5800 or book an appointment online with Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine today.