If you love professional sports, you’re most likely familiar with the injuries that plague these titan-like athletes. They seem to have endless injuries, broken bones and joint issues that can often take them out of the game or worse yet, out of the sport for good. While some knee injuries are more serious than others, there are those that can cause a “hiccup” for an athlete. That injury affects the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which is one of four ligaments located in the knee.
What is the ACL?
All of the knee ligaments work as a unit, allowing the lower leg to bend and straighten. Because the knee is a hinge joint, these ligaments also stabilize the knee during activities such as football, basketball, soccer, tennis or skiing. Should a tear occur due to a sudden twisting motion or a direct blow, a popping sound will be heard and swelling will immediately hinder physical movement.
Injuries to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament
Unfortunately, if an ACL is torn, it does not repair itself as does other parts of the body. Therefore, its ability to function is thwarted, and the torn tissue will break down unless an ACL repair is made. This often requires reconstructive surgery if the patient wants to lead an active lifestyle.
A doctor is needed to correctly diagnose the injury, often recommending reconstructive surgery that will assure ACL repair. Of course, patients have the option to reject surgery, but studies have shown that in the years after the injury, further damage to the area has occurred. Therefore, doctors recommend reconstructive surgery for an Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear.
The surgical procedure of ACL repair includes a physical exam and an MRI scan. The surgeon makes up to four incisions in order to insert an arthroscope inside of the knee joint. This pencil-sized instrument will allow the surgeon to determine the amount of damage as well as repair the injured tissue.
Once the incision has been made, the surgeon takes tissue from the tendon to replace the ACL. Because the tendon has common collagen protein to that of a ligament, it makes for an ideal surgical match. It is then attached to the bone with screws that are made from biodegradable material.
The entire process will take approximately 20 to 60 minutes.
ACL patients have several surgical choices for ACL Reconstruction:
- Allograft – the tendon tissue is from a human donor (Achilles tendon, hamstring tendon and patellar tendon)
- Autograft – the tendon tissue is from the same patient (hamstring tendon and patellar tendon)
What to Expect during Post-Surgery
Patients usually stay in an outpatient facility for a few hours to get over the prescriptions they were given during surgery. They can often go home within a few hours of surgery. A bandage and a brace will be on the knee, and crutches are recommended. Rest is recommended for the first day after surgery. To get the knee joint functioning properly, a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine is used four to six hours a day.
Limited daily activity will allow patients to move about the house, but a routine of ice, rest, pain and anti-inflammatory medications and elevation is required. Within a few weeks, the body will “adopt” the tendon by sending blood to the location, carrying with it fresh fibroblast cells to revive it. Although daily exercises will promote mobility, physical therapy is needed during the week. Many patients are able to get back to their regular physical activities within 10 days to six weeks. With any luck, the replacement will last a lifetime.
While surgery can alleviate pain, discomfort and immobility, it does have its risks. These can include further injury, infection, allergic reactions, bleeding and death. Talk to your physician for more information.