ACL Injury Part 2: Full Recovery is Possible!

by Jul 5, 2021

In ACL Injury Part 1, I discussed what can be done to lessen the chances of a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament.  Before you continue with the article, I recommend reading the previous one, as it also contains useful information about the anterior cruciate ligament itself.  And if you’re already familiar with the anatomy of the ACL, I still suggest going back to the first article if you haven’t already read it.  The cliche saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so you’ll want to know what can prevent debilitation before it becomes a reality.  Coming soon, there will also be an ACL Injury Part 3, where I’ll reveal a demographic at high risk for ACL injuries.  But for now, let’s address treatment options for those who’ve endured a tear or sprain to the ACL.

Now, because ACL injuries can often be career-ending for athletes, I feel I should end this article on a hopeful note.  After listing the different means of treatment, I’ll share a bit about athletes who returned to sports after a full recovery from an ACL tear.  So be sure to read to the very end!

Treatment for ACL Injury

Surgery

  • As a bodyworker myself, it’s hard for me to list this as the first option.  It seems that for every other ailment I’ve written about in the past, surgery is a last resort treatment.  However, that really isn’t the case for ACL injuries.  Most cases of full ACL tears require major surgery.  However, partial ACL tears or sprains have potential to heal without invasive surgery.  It all depends on the severity.

Physical Therapy

  • This may be recommended before surgery if a patient is physically able to stretch and exercise.  But for many, it’s only feasible post-surgery.  Physical therapy will help reduce knee swelling while improving leg strength and flexibility.  These are all factors that must be addressed for successful treatment.
    • Following an ACL tear, patients can suffer from a condition called quadriceps lag. In the case of this ailment, a patient is unable to lift the leg in a straight extended position; the knee will have a slight bend whenever the action is attempted.  Research shows that relieving quadriceps lag pre-surgery increases the chance of a better outlook post-surgery.

Rehabilitative Devices

  • Knee braces and supported sleeves assist the knee into its proper alignment, which prevents it from twisting into positions that risk further damage.  All it takes is one off-balance step to turn a partial ACL tear into a full ACL tear.
    • For the best support, consult a specialist for a custom fit.

Self-Care

  • RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
    • Avoid placing pressure on your leg; apply ice to your knee for 15-20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times per day; use compression bandages to reduce swelling; place your leg on a rest (arm of a sofa, an ottoman, etc.) in an elevated position.
  • Get a medical massage.  Mention the ACL injury when setting an appointment, so you’re paired with the best therapist for your needs.

With physical therapy and self-care, the average recovery time post-surgery is six to nine months.  However, in some cases it can take as little as two months or as much as two years.  In addition to the severity of the injury, other factors impacting recovery time include the patient’s age, weight, and overall health.

Those Who Made a Comeback

Let’s focus on the NBA, seeing as basketball is a sport where ACL injuries are regrettably common.  Between the years 2010 and 2019, a total of 26 NBA players underwent ACL reconstructive surgery.  84% of those 26 returned to play, with the mean recovery time being 372.5 days after surgery.  With that said, many of those who return won’t perform as well as they used to, and they may not last for as many seasons as they would have hoped for.  But that doesn’t mean it’s an end-all no matter what.  Plenty are able to regain their previous athletic abilities.  And in exceptional cases, some athletes beat the odds and come back even stronger!  Here are two examples:

Kyle Lowry

It was his freshman year of college, before he’d played a single game with the Villanova Wildcats, when Lowry tore his ACL.  You’d think that would be the end before he even started, but that was far from the case.  Just four months post-injury, which is a very short recovery time for an ACL tear, he was back on the court.  Having made a full recovery, he went on to be the 24th overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft.  Currently a Toronto Raptor, Lowry has also played for the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies.  And in 2020, his #1 jersey was retired by the Villanova Wildcats.

Zack Lavine

Lavine’s return to the NBA is a remarkable case.  To date, there hasn’t been another athlete to endure such a severe injury only to come back so enhanced.  In 2017, the Minnesota Timberwolf suffered an ACL tear mid-season during a game against the Detroit Pistons, causing him to miss the remainder of the season.  But eleven months later, he came back stronger than ever, just as he promised he would.  Shortly after the injury, he referred to the tear as a minor inconvenience and assured fans that with hard work, he’d be back stronger than before.  After treatment and a transfer to the Chicago Bulls, he was averaging more than 28 points per game, which ranked him among the highest scorers in the NBA.  And he was also averaging more than five assists and rebounds, and more than one steal per game.  Who knows — maybe his raging confidence played a major role in his impressive comeback!

Now You Know!

As is the case with any injury, early intervention is key.  An ACL tear, no matter what measures one takes to prevent it, gives no warning before it attacks.  And once ruptured, the ACL can’t heal on its own.  It will take time and patience, but the functionality will improve with hard work.

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.

Resources

Aaos.org. (2009). ACL Injury: Does It Require Surgery? – OrthoInfo – AAOS. [online] Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/acl-injury-does-it-require-surgery/.

DeFroda, S.F., Patel, D.D., Milner, J., Yang, D.S. and Owens, B.D. (2021). Performance After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in National Basketball Association Players. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, [online] 9(2). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7934048/.

Delaloye, J.-R., Murar, J., Sánchez, M.G., Saithna, A., Ouanezar, H., Thaunat, M., Vieira, T.D. and Sonnery-Cottet, B. (2018). How to Rapidly Abolish Knee Extension Deficit After Injury or Surgery: A Practice-Changing Video Pearl From the Scientific Anterior Cruciate Ligament Network International (SANTI) Study Group. Arthroscopy Techniques, 7(6), pp.e601–e605.

https://www.facebook.com/WebMD (2017). What Is the RICE Method for Injuries? [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/rice-method-injuries.

Sheridan, M. (2005). Nova Notebook: Lowry Happy to Return Quickly From Injury. [online] Villanova University. Available at: https://villanova.com/news/2005/1/7/Nova_Notebook_Lowry_Happy_to_Return_Quickly_From_Injury.aspx?path=mbball.

Smith, S. (2021). Zach LaVine’s rise to All-Star caliber form a few years removed from torn ACL. [online] Chicago Bulls. Available at: https://www.nba.com/bulls/features/now-time-zach-lavine-be-all-star.

Photo Credit

Canva Images by MichaelSvoboda

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