Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are a common occurrence due to the pressure that is placed on this piece of tissue. This is especially true of people who work on their feet and athletes who engage in strenuous sudden movements. ACL injuries can be so frustrating not just because of the swelling and pain but because they can take you away from activities and your livelihood.
For many, undergoing ACL surgery represents the best chance of being able to return to a normal level of activity without pain. However, this can be a notoriously difficult decision to make, with patients having to weigh considerations like the recovery process, severity of the ACL injury and likelihood of a positive outcome.
Ultimately, the decision to have ACL surgery needs to be made at the individual level between patient and surgeon, but there are general guidelines that can help anyone. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to consider ACL surgery, take a moment to read the following informative guide with some key indicators.
Our team is always available to answer any questions you have and help you learn more.
You are an adult patient
ACL surgery is typically only performed on adult patients. This is because the bones and soft tissue that make up the knee joint are still growing in younger people. To ensure the best chance of a positive outcome, surgeons need to perform ACL repair on a fully developed knee.
You have a serious or complete acl tear
Many types of ACL tear can heal with time, rest and proper conservative treatment. If a physician has identified a full tear or a partial tear in a certain location, these are the most likely to require surgical repair or artificial replacement. This is especially true if there is a partial tear present that is causing instability.
Nonsurgical treatment has not been effective
Unless there is a complete tear that requires immediate ACL surgery, doctors will usually first recommend a full course of conservative treatment, as well as extended rest. The goal is to limit stress on the knee while taking steps to promote the healing process. This is often accomplished with bracing, hot and cold compression and over-the-counter medication to reduce swelling and pain as needed.
As the ACL continues to heal, patients can also begin a physical therapy program to help improve strength and stability in the knee while addressing mechanical problems that may be contributing to injury risk and additional knee pain.
If the ACL injury does not appear to be improving after fully exploring these and other options, doctors may recommend meeting with an orthopedic surgeon to explore surgical options.
You are an athlete and want to continue in your sport
Often, athletes develop ACL injuries and tears due to the excessive stress put on the knee from sudden movement changes or direct trauma to the knee through collision. This is why ACL tears are so common among football players, basketball players and soccer players.
In many cases, even if the injury can heal on its own, there can still be a high degree of instability that would not allow for the continued playing of the sport. ACL surgery followed by a full course of physical therapy and rehabilitation can often be an athlete’s best chance of getting back to playing a sport or performing an activity at a high level.
You work in a physical job
Similarly, patients with an ACL injury who work in professions that require heavy lifting, frequent movement and are generally physically demanding may also require surgery to be able to return to work.
Other knee injuries are present
ACL injuries are commonly associated with meniscus injuries and knee cartilage injuries as well. In fact, all three can be present at once, especially in patients with a long history of knee problems. Another problem that may be concurrent with an ACL injury or tear is a fracture in the knee.
Depending on the severity and treatment goals of the patient, ACL surgery combined with other arthroscopic or joint repair surgeries may be recommended and necessary to restore function to the joint.
You understand the available treatment options
There are many approaches to ACL surgery and it's important to understand all of the options available before deciding on a procedure. For example, due to the continued development of surgical techniques, microsurgical technology and other protocols, ACL surgery can often be performed on an outpatient basis. This allows patients to be up and moving earlier in the rehabilitation process and to start the extremely important recovery period.
Any patient considering ACL surgery should first fully explore the full range of potential surgical options to decide the best course of treatment for them. Be prepared to meet with multiple surgeons and explore different approaches. Always choose a surgeon who you feel comfortable with and takes the time to answer questions and fully explain your treatment options.
You are willing to commit to rehabilitation
The recovery process is extremely important after undergoing any surgery and this is particularly true of ACL surgery. There are three primary reasons for this. One is the knee needs to heal from the surgery itself, including any surrounding soft tissue. Even less invasive ACL surgeries require an incision and soft tissue disruption that needs healing.
Second, patients who need surgery have often been dealing with weeks and months of inactivity before the surgery due to the presence of the injury. This means that regaining strength and function in the knee is often a primary concern.
Finally, patients often benefit from biomechanical training to limit improper knee movement and improve stability.
All of these goals can be accomplished by working with a physical therapist to develop an effective rehabilitation program. By combining therapeutic exercise, manual therapies, movement and posture training and other techniques, patients can strengthen the knee and improve range of motion to achieve a positive outcome.
Athletes in particular should be prepared to take anywhere from six months to a year or longer before being cleared to return to the sport. Shortchanging the rehabilitation process can increase the risk of reinjury or a new problem developing.
Learn more about knee surgery with the experts at USA Spine Care & Orthopedics
If you’ve been diagnosed with an ACL injury or tear and are exploring the possibility of surgery, the compassionate and highly experienced team at USA Spine Care and Orthopedics is here to help. From our talented physical therapists to our world-class orthopedic surgeons, we have an interdisciplinary team that can help you create a personalized treatment plan to help you reach your treatment goals.
Whether you are looking to get back in the game, back to work or simply enjoy your favorite activities we’ll help you get started on your treatment journey at our state-of-the-art facilities.
Contact us today to learn more. Call toll free 1-813-492-2512.