Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Dreaded Tear: How to Recover From an ACL Injury

The dreaded knee injury – the ACL tear – is caused by the hyperextension of the knee. This typically happens in sports when a person is jumping, quickly changing direction or making a sudden stop. High-risk sports include Australian football, rugby, soccer, tennis, volleyball, skiing and even golf. Unfortunately, a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can leave you sidelined for months. Following these simple steps could aid in your ACL recovery.

Seek Medical Treatment
The knee is the largest joint in the body, and pain and swelling in the knee is never normal, especially if it occurs immediately after an injury. It is important to seek medical care to assess the damage. Initial ACL treatment begins with R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compression, elevation – but it should not replace an examination by a health-care professional. Once you have been diagnosed with an ACL tear, you and your doctor will plan your recovery, which normally involves surgery.

Prepare for Surgery
Due to the nature and the severity of the injury, surgery is often the recommended option for patients with ACL injuries. The purpose of surgery is to return patients to their original level of activity. For patients who are sedentary and do not participate in sports or for those who perform light manual work, non-operative treatments of ACL injuries may be reasonable alternatives.

When surgery is considered, the ligament is not repaired but instead is reconstructed usually with minimally invasive surgery using an arthroscope. A variety of techniques may be used, and the orthopedic surgeon and patient usually discuss the options available before a decision as to what type of surgery is performed.

Surgery usually does not occur immediately after the injury. Typically it’s scheduled three to four weeks (or more) after the injury, allowing time to plan the operation and for the initial swelling and bleeding from the injury to decrease.

Before surgery, the patient goes through “prehabilitation” to get the knee in operative shape and avoid future stiffness. When the knee is injured, the quadriceps tend to weaken almost immediately, and it is important to minimize any loss in strength and range of motion in the knee. Prehab usually involves ice, an immobilizer and crutches. Patients may be given gentle exercises to perform.

Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation

Physical therapists are an important part of the treatment team and are typically involved in the planning phase before surgery and after surgery. Recovery is measured in months, and often rehabilitation and physical therapy are required after the ACL reconstruction. 

Rehabilitation may take six to nine months to return to full activity:
  • The goal of the first two to three weeks of physical therapy is to increase range of motion of the knee in a controlled fashion. Patients and their physical therapist will work toward full extension (straightening) of the knee and 90 degrees flexion (bending).

  • In Weeks three to six, the goal is to return full range of motion to the knee, and strengthening exercises may be introduced at this time. Using resistance bands can help maximize the support and flexibility needed to keep the ACL as strong as possible.
  • The final months of recovery, patients work on increasing strength and agility while maintaining range of motion. Exercises with bicycles and stair-climbers are often suggested. Patients can also use foam rollers to relax tight muscles before stretching to increase flexibility.
The patient is often kept in a protective knee brace through much of the rehabilitation process to protect the grafted ACL from any undue stress. The brace use may be continued even after the ACL has healed, especially during sporting activities to decrease the risk of re-injury. We recommend the Thermoskin Cooper Knee Alignment Sleeve, a knee support created by renowned sports physiotherapist, Randall Cooper, to help assist with recovery after ACL injuries.

As you work to full recovery, consider iHealthSphere for braces, and exercise and rehab equipment. Our versatile, effective equipment includes the health industry’s most trusted brands, and will aid in your recovery and enhance your athletic performance. 

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