Most sports fans and athletes are familiar with the term “ACL tear.” Even if you’ve never experienced one yourself, you’ve likely heard about a professional athlete experiencing an ACL tear and being out for the season. ACL tears are actually the most common knee injuries and are a result of landing and planting the foot in a cutting or pivoting sport, with or without contact. ACL reconstruction is a procedure that involves replacing or repairing the damaged or torn ACL ligament.
What is the ACL and how is a tear or damage diagnosed?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament in the knee that connects the front top of the tibia (the lower leg bone) to the rear bottom of the femur (the thigh bone) and helps provide stability to the knee joint.
Immediately after an ACL injury, patients usually experience pain and swelling and the knee feels unstable. Within a few hours after an ACL injury, patients often have a large amount of knee swelling, a loss of full range of motion, pain or tenderness along the joint line, and discomfort while walking.
When a patient with an ACL injury is initially seen for evaluation by a physician, the doctor may order X-rays to look for any possible fractures. He or she may also order an MRI scan to evaluate the ACL and check for evidence of injury to other knee ligaments, meniscus cartilage, or articular cartilage. In addition to performing special tests for identifying meniscus tears and injury to other ligaments of the knee, the physician will often perform a Lachman’s test to see if the ACL is intact.
What is involved in ACL reconstruction?
A torn ACL is generally replaced by a substitute graft made of tendon. The substitute graft may be an autograft that comes from the patient or an allograft that is taken from a cadaver.
After the graft has been prepared, the surgeon places an arthroscope into the joint. Small incisions called portals are made in the front of the knee to insert the arthroscope and the surgeon examines the condition of the knee. Meniscus and cartilage injuries are trimmed or repaired and the torn ACL stump is then removed.
Before the surgery is complete, the surgeon will probe the graft to make sure it has good tension, verify that the knee has full range of motion and perform tests (such as the Lachman’s) to assess graft stability. The skin is then closed and dressings are applied. The patient will usually go home on the same day of the surgery.
What is the post-surgical and recovery process for ACL reconstruction?
After surgery, you will feel some pain. This is a natural part of the healing process. Your doctor and nurses will work to reduce your pain, which can help you recover from surgery faster. Medications are often prescribed for short-term pain relief after surgery. Many types of medicines are available to help manage pain, including opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and local anesthetics. Your doctor may use a combination of these medications to improve pain relief, as well as minimize the need for opioids.
Physical therapy is a crucial part of successful ACL reconstruction, with exercises beginning immediately after the surgery. Much of the success of ACL reconstructive surgery depends on the patient’s dedication to rigorous physical therapy. With new surgical techniques and stronger graft fixation, current physical therapy uses an accelerated course of rehabilitation.
Call Plano Orthopedic Sports Medicine & Spine Center today!
Residents of DFW don’t need to look any further than POSMC for all of their orthopedic needs – including ACL reconstruction. As one of the largest and most experienced orthopedic practices in North Texas, we have the tools and the orthopedic specialists needed to fix virtually every bone and joint in your body! If you’re experiencing knee pain, weakness of the knee, swelling of the knee, or stiffness of the knee, give us a call 972-250-5700 to schedule an appointment. We look forward to seeing you soon! Contact us today!