Life After an ACL Tear

The ACL, short for anterior cruciate ligament, is a major ligament in your knee. It functions by connecting your thighbone, or your femur, to your shinbone, or tibia. 

ACL tears are a common sports injury, and it’s usually torn due to a sudden stop, a moment of impact, or abrupt change in direction. These movements are common in sports like volleyball, soccer, football, downhill skiing, and basketball. 

At our offices in Los Angeles and Encino, California, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Arash A. Dini offers his long-time expertise and knowledge in treating sports injuries. As an avid athlete himself, he understands the importance of maintaining proper physical health through preventative medicine and care. 

Here’s what he wants you to know about life after an ACL tear.

Recognizing an ACL tear

A common indicator of an ACL tear is a popping sort of feeling in the knee. Your knee may also feel swollen or unstable, as though it’s giving way. It could also have trouble bearing your weight and performing its usual full range of motion. 

Because the ACL joint is such an important one, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, particularly after a sporting activity. Women may want to be particularly careful, as being female places you at a higher risk for developing an ACL tear due to differences in body build and muscle strength. 

How we treat an ACL tear

Dr. Dini first diagnoses ACL tears with a physical exam. This usually involves X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound to detect any tear or injury in your ACL joint. If you do have an ACL tear, you have a couple of different options for treatment, depending on the severity of your condition. 

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation treatment for an ACL injury involves several weeks of rehab therapy. This may be used in conjunction with a brace and crutches, to stabilize your knee and avoid weight-bearing. 

The goal of treating an ACL tear with physical therapy is to diminish swelling and pain, strengthen muscles, and restore your knee’s full range of motion. In many patients, it is necessary to rehabilitate the knee prior to surgery to maximize the likelihood of a good surgical outcome. This is often referred to as pre-habilitation, or prehab. Dr. Dini works with several excellent physical therapists who specialize in the treatment of ACL injuries before and after surgery. Your rehab plan will vary depending on your age, fitness level, and preferred sport. 

Surgery

Surgery is used to reconstruct the damaged ligament with a graft. A donor tendon, which is similar to the ligament, is used to replace the damaged ACL. Surgery is used for severe injuries or if you’re an athlete who wants to continue with your sport. You may want to consider, however, that it generally takes athletes a year or longer to return to their sport after an ACL injury. 

ACL Graft Selection

Graft selection is an important decision that should be made prior to surgery. The graft selection process first begins by determining whether to harvest a graft from the patient (autograft) or to use a graft from a donor (allograft). The next step is to select exactly which part of the body to harvest the graft from in the case of an autograft. Similarly, if an allograft is selected, the exact donor tendon must be selected. This process varies for each patient. Depending on the patient’s age, activity level, and preferred sport, Dr. Dini will recommend a different graft choice. Every patient is different and the tendon graft must be specific to each patient depending on their exact needs. 

Adjusting after an ACL tear

You can return to your normal activities after you are fully recovered from an ACL tear. Here are some helpful tips for ensuring a full and speedy recovery:

Be sure to inform Dr. Dini of any problems you may be experiencing, including pain, impaired motion, fevers, or any new problems and symptoms that crop up during the course of your recovery. Our team may be knowledgeable, but we can’t help you fully recover if we don’t know what’s going on. 

Start treating your ACL injury today

Because the ACL joint is so critical to your mobility, it’s important to seek medical attention right away if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms. This is particularly important if you’re an athlete because an ACL tear, if left untreated, can seriously impair you from continuing your sport. 

Call us or schedule an appointment right on our website today at either our Los Angeles or Encino, California, locations. We look forward to helping you!

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