Life After an ACL Tear

If you’ve been diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, commonly known as an ACL, you were probably injured while playing sports. Torn ACLs usually result from athletic activity. If you play basketball, soccer, football, or another sport where you pivot and change direction suddenly, jump frequently, or have direct contact from a hit, you’re among the most likely to tear the ACL. ACL tears are usually complete or almost complete tears; partial tears are fairly rare. 

What are your options after an ACL tear? Surgery is a common option, but is it right for you, and what type of recovery is involved? At Tri-State Orthopaedics & Robotic Surgery, under the direction of renowned board-certified orthopedic surgeon Apurva Dalal, MD, we are experts when it comes to ACL tears. Here’s what we think you should know.

Surgery to repair the ACL

If you have a complete ACL tear, research indicates that you have a better outcome with surgery than without it. Without surgery, you likely won’t be able to play sports that require pivoting quickly; the knee won’t be stable enough to support you. You may even have instability when walking, which can lead to a fall. If sports are an important part of your life, then ACL surgery is probably on the horizon. 

But surgery isn’t the first step following an ACL tear. Typically, we recommend physical therapy for a few weeks. This therapy helps restore your range of motion, calm the pain, reduce swelling, and strengthen the muscles around the knee to help support it after the surgery. If you have surgery too soon, you may not be able to gain the full range of motion afterward. 

If you’re an athlete who loves to play your favorite game, ACL reconstruction surgery is likely your best option. The surgery creates a new ligament from part of your hamstring tendon, your patellar tendon, or donor tissue. Dr. Dalal performs arthroscopic surgery using very small incisions to reconstruct a torn ACL. 

Recovery from ACL surgery takes time. Full recovery takes from eight months to a year, and you’re limited in what you can do before your healing is complete. During the initial weeks after surgery, the focus is on gentle range-of-motion exercises to help you completely straighten your leg as well as bend it. 

As physical therapy continues, you work on balance and regaining the normal motion of your knee. Between two and three months into your rehab, you may start gentle biking or swimming. 

Each person’s rehabilitation is unique and depends on when you meet therapeutic goals. Your physical therapist guides you through each phase of recovery and moves you to the next phase when you’re ready. Dr. Dalal lets you know when you’re able to return to your favorite sport. 

ACL surgery isn’t only for young people engaged in demanding sports. Studies indicate that people of middle age and older benefit from ACL reconstruction. Baby boomers today want to continue an active lifestyle. Your overall health and desired activity level are more important factors than chronological age in deciding on ACL surgery. 

Rehabilitation and use of supports

If ACL surgery is not a good option because of other health issues or advanced age and your usual activity level is low, the focus is on retraining the muscles and tendons to support the knee to the maximum extent still possible. You work with a skilled physical therapist who leads you through exercises designed to help you regain neuromuscular control of your knee and leg. 

Call or request an appointment online with Tri-State Orthopaedics & Robotic Surgery for treatment using the latest surgical advances in ACL reconstruction and for all of your orthopedic needs.

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