As part of our series on orthopedic medicine for athletes, Dr. Matt Heckler of the Othopedic Associates of Southwest Ohio shares insight on the status of ACL injuries, reconstruction, and rehab.
As you might expect, this is a subject with which I’m very familiar, and comfortable in sharing information pertaining to the anterior cruciate ligament – the knee – injury, repair, and rehabilitation back to full recovery and range of motion.
First let me address the question of whether there are more ACL injuries than before, as a result of asking too much of athletes…training, workload, and conditioning.
I do not believe that the percentage of injury is actually higher. Rather, I think that there’s just more kids playing more sports than ever before. So, of course, if there are more kids participating there’s going to be more incidences of injury to knees and other joints, as well.
Second, how do you know if you’ve sustained an ACL injury? Basically, the ACL is that part of the knee in the center, behind the knee cap, a ligament that prevents the shin bone from sliding out in front of the thigh bone. And often when that ligament is injured you’ll often hear a popping noise. Other signs are pain behind the knee, and swelling within the first few hours of injury.
No two ACLs injuries are exactly alike, simply because no two athletes are exactly alike.
And some can be caused by a blow to the knee, while others can be occur without an athlete being hit, at all. We see and hear about it all the time.
Third, and this is the best news of all…a serious ACL injury at one time might have meant the end of an athlete’s career. But in today’s world, what we know about the science of reconstructive surgery is so far advanced that the chances are very, very high of coming back successfully, and continuing to play at a very high level. It used to be the exception, but now when you look at college and the NFL there are many athletes playing at a high level of contribution after having an ACL procedure.
Of course, the success of that surgery is incumbent on a dedicated rehab, proper diet, and a commitment to a full recovery. There really are no shortcuts, and that’s where we see a difference between a lot of successful ACL repairs.
Again, like we talk about regarding a lot of injuries, an ounce of prevention – in this case, strength, training, and conditioning – is an invaluable aid to avoiding injury in the first place, or recovery if repair is necessary. The stronger you are the safer you are, both for female and male athletes.
But let me end on a positive word. Injury is a part of competition. But technology being what it is today, the knowledge and procedures we have now to fix an injury is better than anytime in the history of orthopedic medicine. So if you do your part in being properly conditioned and strong before you play, chances are you’re going to be able to come back just fine…even if there is an injury!