Of all the common orthopaedic injuries, ACL tears share a reputation most frequently enjoyed by monsters of urban legend. It’s the “big bad” of sporting stories, the career ender, the injury of a lifetime that will never fully heal. Or is it?
It can be shockingly easy to think of ACL tears as a lasting doom. After all, if a professional athlete never fully recovers from an ACL tear, what hope do we have? If we were just trying to stay fit when we got a little carried away on the basketball court, tennis court, or ski slope, how can we recover functionality when so many young male and female athletes struggle to heal?
The team at Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons is here to reexamine the myths and rumors about ACL tears—what they are, how they’re healed, and what you can expect from treatment.
ACL Tears 101
Your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) connects your thighbone to your shinbone at the point of your knee. Because of its placement and the possibility for torque between shin and thigh bones during activity, ACLs are most frequently torn by sudden, forceful twisting motions.
The most common symptoms of an ACL tear are predictable: swelling, extreme pain, inability to put weight on the affected area, and even loud popping noises from the knee.
As gruesome as these symptoms seem, it’s worth remembering that over 200,000 people experience ACL tears each year—a number that clearly includes regular people with regular injuries and not just professional athletes with the most extreme injuries.
How are ACL Tears treated?
When thinking about ACL tears, we quickly jump to scenes of surgery or last minute, high-risk operations intended to salvage functionality. That version of ACL tear treatment is admittedly melodramatic.
While some severe ACL tears require minimally invasive surgeries or reconstructions to correct, not every case is equal. Drastic examples may require open surgery, but this is hardly the norm.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation are also common treatments, as are wearable braces and general self-care during your ongoing fitness routine. In any case, determinations about treatment or surgery must be left to your trusted physician.
Overall, an ACL tear is far from a surefire way to wind up on the operating table.
Why the reputation?
While it’s true that ACL tears have ended professional athletic careers before, it’s important to remember that professional athletes are expected to maintain a much higher-than-average performance level than the rest of us.
An ACL tear for a young athlete may diminish their performance (if only marginally) in a hyper-competitive atmosphere. A career-ending injury, therefore, isn’t necessarily devastating to their personal lives or so grievous that they experience hardship going about their daily business.
Watching an ACL tear happen in real-time during a televised sports event may contribute to its mythos, but modern orthopaedic advancements tell us that ACL tears are not the end of physical independence or everyday activity.
An end to dread
ACL tears are not a walk in the park by any means, but they’re far from an “end of life” injury. The expert team of physicians at Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons have seen just about every type of ACL injury imaginable and they can get you back to an active lifestyle with a customized plan specific to your individual needs.
With numerous imaging options available, determining the best course of treatment is as easy as keeping your cool and keeping your eyes on a hopeful recovery!