Everybody knows someone who has been there. Soccer players, field hockey players, basketball players, even elite runners who have planted, twisted and heard a pop that in an instant can put a career on hold indefinitely.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the 4 main ligaments in the knee. The role of the ACL is to aid in knee stabilization during any lateral or twisting motion such as cutting, jumping, pivoting and landing. ACL strains and tears are some of the most common ligament related sports injuries that occur among youth and adult athletes alike. For some lucky athletes surgery is not necessary after rupturing the ACL, however for most folks an operation to replace the torn ligament is a must. Whether you are bound for the operating table or not, there are some things to consider that have the potential to make your rise back to the top a lot quicker.
- Re-Gaining Range of Motion: After an injury, whether it results in surgery or not, it is not uncommon to lose range of motion in the affected joint. Regaining and maintaining normal range of motion throughout the knee joint after injury is crucial to making a full recovery. Even something as seemingly minuscule as a 10 degree loss in ROM (range of motion) in the knee could result in abnormal gait patterns which immediately predisposes you to re-injury, or even injury to the ankles and hips. Here, professional rock climber and world cup winner Alex Puccio works with her Physical Therapist to regain ROM after ACL reconstruction surgery.
- Maintaining Bi-Lateral Symmetry: Often times the assumption is that all of the rehab needs to be done on the injured leg only. It is important to keep in mind that you need two fully functional and, ideally, symmetrical legs in order to return to play without developing some serious movement pattern compensations. Sure, you can work to correct that valgus collapse in your injured left leg. However, if you are only working to activate the VMO and glute med on your left side and completely ignoring the right, some kind of compensation is bound to develop. To prevent further or new injuries, it is imperative that you work to maintain bi-lateral symmetry.
- Last But Not Least, Having Patience: Of course it is important to follow the post-injury protocol that has been given to you by your physical therapist or your surgeon. While range of motion and symmetry are very important elements to recovery, it is also important to remember that Rome was not built in a day. A full recovery from an ACL injury can take up to a year, though each case is different. Injuries, no matter how small, are mentally taxing. Whether you are a weekend warrior, a professional athlete or a middle school track and field runner, an ACL injury is guaranteed to test your mental wherewithal. Be patient with your body as it heals, don’t push it too hard or expect too much of it too soon. This will only result in set backs that will further test your patience and your injury. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to break. So take some time off, read some good books and eat some ice cream.