So You Tore Your ACL
What Happens Now?
The day you never saw coming.
You've never even been hurt before and now this. I know it may seem scary. Which is why I'm here to help parents and athletes alike through the process.
Who am I?
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator, Functional Movement Certified Coach (and Personal Trainer).
Over the last decade of my life, I’ve worked at facilities dealing with performance and, specifically, return to activity for athletes of all levels and law enforcement. I spent the last decade facilitating and educating on ACL Prevention, Rehab, and Recovery. At the orthopedic facility, I never had an athlete experience complications in their following season.
Out of over 100 ACLs I interacted with, there were 3 injuries of note after the one year mark.
- Soccer adult high comp - 2 years post - contact injury (opponent trapped knee in blowout game, trained again 4 years injury free)
- Soccer HS finished senior year - 2 years post - playing recreationally with friends (went through different rehab in college. Did not go well)
- Basketball - 3 years post - joined a recreational volleyball team (new sport, trained PT, 2 years injury free).
My athletes will still come back to for questions and concerns. Today, I’m going to give you the playbook to overcome this adversity.
What does it mean when you tear you ACL?
ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament. It is one of the essential ligaments of your knee that maintains the integrity of the joint. Your ACL, PCL, LCL, and MCL are ligaments that function to maintain the stability of the knee. The ACL specifically prevents anterior translation of the tibia in relation to the femur. Basically, it prevents your shin from launching itself forward especially when you make a dynamic motion.
Now, we can go over the anatomy and I can tell you that there are two bundles that work to stabilize the knee. This is the part where your eyes gloss over, so I’ll get to the meat. The stress that occurred at your knee was too great, and your ligament could not resist and it tore. Kind of like this mochi! Except with a Pop...
If you notice, it doesn't immediately rip. Just like your ACL, there are degrees of stress and grades of tears.
Partial Tear vs Full Tear
Good News: You Don’t Need Your ACL to function.
There are many people walking around without their ACL and they are doing just fine. Some of them don’t even know it, but may complain about their leg buckle occasionally. The reason for this is that the knee itself has support for everyday living.
- Non-Athlete: Can return to their life with minimal interruptions should they choose not to have this injury corrected.
- Athlete: Once you have torn your ACL, dynamic movement is highly unstable and you risk increasing the damage to the joint if left untreated. Even if it’s a “partial tear,” effectively for an athlete, it is too great a risk to continue with that damage.
You know somebody that tore their ACL, and they still played. How is that possible?
Well, there are several considerations and implications.
First, when you tear a ligament, tendon, or muscle, there are grades depending on how much of the tissue damaged. Here’s what that means:
It is possible to sustain the injury, and it gets missed.
Perhaps you didn’t have the significant/catastrophic injury. A partial tear that hurt but you played through it. Despite it buckling and giving out, you made it to the end of the season and SURPRISE! The joints in rough shape.
A doctor may have the opinion that your limb can heal on its own or has no fear of causing further damage. If your activity or lifestyle is considered to be low risk. This is not a common decision when dealing with younger people.
This is the end of your career.
Perhaps this is your last few games of an important season before it’s all over. The MEDICAL STAFF may decide that you can try to finish. Brace the knee and get back out there on the field. That’s a case by case and athlete by athlete scenario. The Doctor will have your best interest in mind when making that decision.
Good News! Your New Knee Is Better Than Ever.
Whether they do an allograft or an autograft, structurally your knee will be have great integrity once you have completed the healing process. Actually, we’ll discuss the recovery process, which includes the fact that you’re more likely to tear your other knee than your surgically repaired one.
Typically, 6 months after surgery, you will be cleared to return to activity. They will test your range of motion, quad strength, jumping and landing mechanics, single leg balance and coordination. By the time you’ve got to this point, you’ll be cleared. Insurance makes sure that you can return to your quality of life. Without excessive pain or lack of range of motion, the doctor will clear you, as an athlete, to return to sports.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE READY FOR SPORTS!
Once you’ve finished therapy, your knee is ready for everyday tasks. You can walk, jump, climb stairs, etc. In my next post, we will get into Return to Play Protocol. What it really means when you get “cleared” and why you don’t feel ready to return to sports.
Thank You For Reading! Here's a Reward!
A Link to my Podcasts on ACL Injuries to listen through a complete deep dive of the topic. Also available on Spotify!
Questions? Contacts Me Directly!
About the Creator
Blake A Swan
NCSA Strength and Conditioning Professional certified as a CSCS, TSAC-F, and CPT. I have my FMS Certification as well, and spent over a decade working with athletes in various sports. Including youth, high school, college, Olympic and Pro.
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