"ACL" is short for Anterior Cruciate Ligament, located deep inside the knee. It pairs with the "MCL" Medial Collateral Ligament that holds together the center of the Femur and Tibia bones.
When torn fully or partially, a torn ACL injury is one of the most severe and painful injuries an athlete can suffer. However, now, with the latest in sports technology, an ACL tear is no longer a career-ending injury if the athlete receives a torn ACL surgery.
For anyone who suffers this type of injury, it is highly recommended that you immediately go to your doctor's office or the ER to obtain an X-ray and MRI to determine the damage done inside.
Personally, in October of 2012, I suffered an ACL, MCL and Meniscus tear during a volleyball tournament. Like many knee injuries, mine occurred due to an impact from the outside of my knee. I heard numerous pops before I went down, and immediately went numb in the area. I was taken out of the gym on a stretcher by the EMT's and taken immediately to the emergency room. It was there I was told of my injury. Not only had I snapped 3 ligaments, but also suffered some fracturing of the bone at the point of impact. I was devastated; not only for the injury, but for the loss of my sacred season. I was told it was now up to me to decide whether or not to get the torn ACL surgery to reconstruct my knee. Without it, I could heal on my own, but I may not be able to play competitively again.
I immediately decided I wanted the reconstructive surgery to get back on the court as soon as possible. Knowing the road ahead would be a long one, I found the closest and highest recommended orthopedic surgeon in my area and decided I'd abide by his every whim.
It all begins with an MRI to determine the damage. Then immediately physical therapy starts. What many people don't know is that an athlete must return to full mobility before the ACL surgery. This is for many reasons, one being the better your recovery pre-surgery is, the faster the healing is post-opp. And two, because during the surgery itself, in order to access the correct angle, a knee must be bent more than 90 degrees in order to align the drill with the correct path for the ligament.
Your orthopedic surgeon will set a surgery date for more than a month out from the date the injury occurred to give you time to complete the pre-opp phase of PT. Once you are cleared for surgery, they bring you in to give you a full overview of anesthesia, and exact operation procedures. This is a very important step; not to be overlooked. Many people don't understand this is a major surgery and should be treated as such.
During the day of your surgery, you will show up with your loved one, as it's necessary to have a secure ride home after the operation. What will happen is they'll slowly put you under anesthesia and take you to the operating room. Of course I was completely knocked out for everything that happened next, but all was later explained to me in detail.
During surgery, they make small less than one half inch incisions around your knee; one for the camera scope, and 2 for the surgical tools. The very first job is to clean out the injured part of the knee; the old snapped ACL, the torn pieces of the meniscus and other scar tissue that has developed. It is a fact that MCL ligaments have rejuvenative features that no other part of the body possesses, therefore MCL surgery replacing the ligament is never needed, as it heels quickly on its own.
The new ACL ligament, in my case was taken from the patella tendon from a cadaver (the patella tendon is stronger than the ACL mostly because it is connected to bone). Rather than carve out a new cavity, the new ACL is thread through the original track where the torn ACL once lived. With a titanium plug on one end holding it in place, the new ACL is guided by thread into its new place and held secure by a bone plug drilled into place. Bone, like the MCL ligament has its own healing factors, and eventually will dissolve the bone plug into itself becoming a part of it permanently. In this capacity, the bone will heel mostly in about 6-8 weeks.
Once the new ACL ligament is in place, all other areas clean, you will be left with 3 small dash-type scars and one 2-3 inch line scar at the point where all the drilling took place.
Upon waking from surgery, you will feel groggy as the anesthesia wears off and will notice yourself in a full metal leg brace complete with side dials for future bending ability. Underneath it all you'll find a circulating ice machine constantly running ice water over the surgical areas.
You've done it! You've survived ACL reconstructive surgery! You're next PT appointment will be one week from the surgery to begin trying to move your leg. In the meantime, stay put! Ice as often as possible, do not touch or change the bandages yourself, your follow up appointment post-opp with your Ortho surgeon will take care of that. One tip: before surgery I bought a shower chair, this is a must as you cannot stand on your knee for longer than a few seconds, and certainly not in a wet, slippery area. Remember to rest, and have help at all times!
In a week, you will begin your physical therapy phase. It is hard, difficult and frustrating. But just keep in mind: it takes a full 6 months from the day of surgery to be back at your competitive sports-loving self again, so take it slow, stay focused and don't forget your physical therapy homework!