When it comes to knee injuries, an ACL tear is the most common one that leads to surgery. Despite how prominent ACL surgery is, there are still many people who don’t know much about the procedure. This can lead to issues if you end up experiencing an ACL injury.
Here is the lowdown on ACL injuries and surgery, so you know what to expect should you ever need it for yourself.
What Is An ACL Tear?
An ACL tear is an injury to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) which usually occurs during sports or other strenuous physical activity. The ACL is one of four major ligaments inside the knee, and it works by stopping the shin from sliding forward and over the femur, or thighbone. It also maintains rotational stability in the knee.
An ACL tear occurs when the ligament is ruptured due to sudden impact, or when a person suddenly changes direction during movement. Jumping, cutting, and pivoting are common causes, hence the high number of ACL injuries amongst athletes.
There are a number of symptoms that can help one to identify whether they’ve torn their ACL. These include:
- A ‘popping’ sound or ‘snapping’ sensation during the movement that causes injury
- Sudden pain, anywhere from moderate to severe
- Swelling in and around the knee
These symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the injury. If the ACL has been torn, the person in question is likely to feel instability in the knee and even that the knee is shifting. Because of this, they will be unable to continue the activity that caused the injury as they will not be able to jump, pivot, or make sudden movements.
ACL tears can be treated by orthopedic surgery, or nonsurgical treatments and rehabilitation. The injury will be reviewed by a doctor who will decide if surgery is necessary. Regardless, physical therapy and rehabilitation will be prescribed to help the healing process, and in some cases, a leg brace may be fitted to relieve pressure and stress on the knee during everyday activities.
In most cases, reconstructive surgery will be necessary to repair the ligament. There are a variety of different types of surgery that can be chosen, depending on the type and severity of the tear. Often the torn ligament will be removed and replaced with new tissue from yourself or via a donor.
5 Things You Should Know
1. Recovery Time Is Longer Than You Think
When talking about recovery from ACL surgery, 6 months is often projected as the length of time you’ll have to wait before you can return to sports and physical activity. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Many people will take anywhere between 9 months and two years before they can return to the same level of activity – this is especially true for athletes. Your physical therapist should give you a broad timeline of when you can expect to be back to normal.
2. Surgical Nerve Damage Can Cause Numbness
Depending on the type of graft used during your ACL reconstruction, you may feel long-term numbness in your affected knee. This is normal – so normal in fact, that approximately 80% of people who undergo ACL surgery report it following the surgery. This is due to damage to the saphenous nerve which is responsible for recognizing sensation in the inner part of the knee.
Though it may seem disturbing at first, it isn’t a cause for concern and it won’t affect the function of the knee or the healing process.
3. Prepare Yourself And Your Home
After ACL surgery you will likely be using crutches, and your mobility will be highly restricted for several weeks at a minimum. You can prepare yourself for this by practicing using crutches and even purchasing crutch covers to minimize the chances of rash and blistering.
You may have to rearrange the furniture in your home to make sure there are as few obstacles in your path as possible. Consider how you will bathe or shower during this period, as you will need to keep your bandages and brace dry. Suction mats to stabilize your footing and shower stools are just two things that might help.
Make sure you have friends, family members, etc, who will be able to assist you in the days following (if and when necessary).
4. Be Mindful Of The Recovery Process
After surgery, it’s important to follow up with a physical therapist and follow their exercise routine to a tee. Not only because it will help you heal and regain your strength and range of motion faster in the long run, but it will show you what you shouldn’t be doing. Doing your own exercises or even returning to your former exercise routine could cause further injuries or extend your torn ACL recovery time.
The same goes for following your surgeon’s advice post-surgery in regards to medication, wound care, and general rehabilitation. Make sure to go over your surgery and rehabilitation plan as thoroughly as possible so you know exactly what to expect in the days and weeks following the procedure.
If you are dealing with an ACL injury, or you need advice on post-surgery treatment, we can help. Our team at Kellie K Middleton MD is here to make the process as easy as possible. We are based in Atlanta, GA, and specialize in sports orthopedics, physical therapy, and pain management. You can get in touch via email or call us at +770-509-4030.