The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most commonly injured ligament in the knee joint, with as many as 200,000 ACL sprains or tears happening yearly in the United States. Like any ligament injury, ACL injuries vary in severity, which means recovery following an injury can also vary.
At Advanced Sports Medicine, James Johnson, MD, offers advanced treatment for ACL injuries in patients from Belle Meade and Nashville, Tennessee, including injuries from sports and other activities. If you've had an ACL injury, here's what you can expect during recovery and when you can count on returning to your active lifestyle.
The ACL is one of four major knee ligaments that keep the knee stable and support a full range of movement. Running diagonally across the knee, the ACL prevents the upper leg bone from sliding over the lower leg bone while helping the knee rotate.
ACL injuries can happen to anyone, but they're especially common among athletes, like football, basketball, and baseball players. These injuries occur when stopping suddenly or rapidly changing directions (pivoting). Direct impacts from falls or contact with other objects or players or landing incorrectly after a jump can also injure the ACL.
ACL injuries are graded according to the severity of the injury, from grade 1, which is the mildest injury, to grade 3, which is the most severe. Treatment depends on the injury grade and other factors, like the patient's age, history of knee problems, and level of activity. Generally, more severe injuries are more likely to require surgery, especially in younger people and active athletes.
For grade 1 injuries, conservative options, like rest, activity modification, and physical therapy, are typically enough to heal the injury and enable a return to activities within a few weeks. More severe injuries, like those requiring surgery, take longer to heal.
Sticking to your recovery plan is essential for any ACL injury but especially critical for more severe injuries. Your recovery plan will be unique to you, but generally, the goal is to restore normal movement and achieve a return to activity within several weeks to several months.
Many recovery plans are divided into "phases" based on the goals of therapy. Your plan will focus on reducing swelling, keeping the knee mobile, restoring the range of motion in the joint, and strengthening the muscles that support the knee to regain stability and prevent further injury.
Typically, patients resume activities gradually to give their knee time to adjust. Many patients can return to their sport within 6-12 months as long as they stick with their recovery plan, including regular physical therapy, but again, each patient's timeline will vary. Dr. Johnson and your physical therapist will work closely with you through every recovery step to help you reach your goals as quickly as possible.
ACL injuries are fairly common; fortunately, treatment options have evolved and improved significantly over the past decades. Today, many athletes return to full function even after a severe ACL injury as long as they follow their recovery plan and have regular follow-up visits with their doctor.
To learn more about ACL injury management and recovery, call 615-467-4636 or book an appointment online with Dr. Johnson and the team at Advanced Sports Medicine today.