Football fans cringe when they hear the term “anterior cruciate ligament,” or “ACL.” They know that when they hear that term it is usually due to an athlete tearing their ACL, which in almost all cases is a season-ending injury.
The ACL provides stability knee and without it an athlete cannot plant their leg and change direction while running. Recovering from this type of injury takes even professional athletes, with the best surgeons and therapy, up to a year to recover. This August 28 article from the New York Times, helps shed some light on why that is and what can be done about it.
The article points out that some ligaments, like the medial collateral ligament, heal themselves after an injury. The ACL does not. Fixing an ACL tear requires surgery to regain complete mobility in the knee. The typical way to repair a blown ACL was to use tissue from the patient’s own leg or from a cadaver.
This type of surgery did repair the knee but it did not return the athlete to the same level of capability that they had before the injury. Dr. Murray of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School conducted a study to find out why that is and to determine if anything could be done to improve the success rate of the surgery.
The article points to a study that Dr. Murray did in which her team surgically cut the ACL’s of pigs and tried three methods of reparation. One method was to simply leave the leg alone and see what would happen. The second method was to repair the ACL with other tissue, as in the conventional reconstruction surgery. The third was to use a blood clotting procedure, known as “blood-clot scaffolding” that Dr. Murray’s team had developed. The scaffolding procedure proved not only to be the most effective but showed less cartilage damage and arthritis than the other two methods.
As the article points out, pigs are not people. There is still a lot of work to be done to determine if this procedure is truly the most effective. Football fans may point to Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, who tore his ACL in December 2011. He underwent the typical reconstruction method where muscle tendon was used. He came back for the 2012 season (which started in September 2012) and set numerous records in an absolutely incredible season.
However, his recovery is the exception, not the norm. The average person who tears their ACL faces a long, painful recovery with little hope of complete recovery. Hopefully this new method of reparation will lead to better results.