The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most well-known ligament in the knee. You’ll often hear of athletes tearing their ACL. When the ACL is torn, it is considered an orthopedic trauma and reconstructive surgery will almost always be necessary.
The anterior cruciate ligament is one the four major ligaments in the knee and is the ligament that is most commonly injured from an orthopedic trauma to the knee. Ligaments are thick, strong bands of fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone. The job of ligaments is to provide stability. The ACL runs from the bottom, back of the thigh bone (femur) and connects to the top, front of the shin bone (tibia). The ACL provides a great deal of stability in the knee.
There are grades of tears that an injured ACL will be diagnosed with. Not all ACL tears will require orthopedic reconstructive surgery, but the majority will. This is essentially because ACL tears will most often occur in athletes who will have a great desire to return to their sport. For this to occur, orthopedic reconstructive surgery of the ACL tear will most likely be necessary in order to correctly fix the ligament, allowing it to heal properly.
The ACL is prone to tears and other orthopedic traumas that require reconstructive surgery usually because of a twisting motion that exerts more pressure on the knee joint than the ACL is capable of withstanding. ACL tears are commonly seen in athletes who play soccer, football, basketball or other sports that involve the overuse of knees. An ACL tear can start small, but it may continue to cause pain and instability and completely tear if it remains untreated.
When a trauma to the knee involves a complete tear of the ACL and subsequent orthopedic reconstructive surgery, it will be a season-ending injury. ACL reconstruction surgery time plus recovery will be many months. Depending on the status of your healing, the average length of time that you will be unable to return to your sport is about 9 months. It may be shorter or longer. Dr. Burke will give you the OK to return to sports when he feels confident that enough healing has taken place after your ACL reconstructive surgery.
An ACL reconstruction surgery itself is an outpatient procedure that will not require an overnight stay in the hospital. The surgery itself is around 2-3 hours. During this orthopedic surgery, the ligament will be repaired, or replaced. If the trauma is severe enough to have damaged the ligament beyond repair, it will be replaced with a new ligament. This ligament may be taken from your hamstring muscle (called an autograft), or from a donor ligament from another individual (called an allograft).
After surgery, you will return home with a large bandage over your knee and crutches. You will not be allowed to apply weight throughout the involved leg. You will begin physical therapy in about a weeks’ time. At first in therapy, you will not do much. You will be performing gentle range of motion exercises and receive pain relieving modalities to the area. After some time and according to your healing and instructions from Dr. Burke, you will be progressed to more range of motion exercises and weight bearing strengthening activities.
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