ACL tear- a blessing in disguise?
By Zach Mitchell, PT, DPT, SFMA-Lvl2
Tearing my ACL- a Blessing in Disguise!!!
Knee injuries can be scary… especially when there is a major ligament involved. The recovery is long and, unfortunately, you will have to miss a lot of games too. It was my senior year and I was playing rugby for the University of Maryland. I had been playing rugby for about 2 months and was finally starting to understand the game. Since I had a background in football, wrestling, and soccer, I thought rugby would be a fun combination of the sports I had played.
We were playing against UNC on their turf field. I was playing position 15 (wing), the last person on the outside. The game was going well when I received the ball in front of two large men. I decided to run through these people, but it didn’t go as planned. I planted my foot and drove as hard as I could into what felt like hitting two Mack Trucks – they crushed me!!! My foot was stuck in the turf, my knee twisted, and I was tackled backwards. I instantly felt an abnormal feeling in my knee, not pain, but a weird, stiffening feeling (as if my knee was filling up with fluid – which it was!!!) Many people hear a loud audible pop but I did not. My young, naïve, bulletproof 21 year-old-self thought I could out-play the weird sensation. As I continued to play, the abnormal sensation became more noticeable. Again, I tried to stretch it, shake it off, but nothing worked. My knee started to feel heavy and full. I made a tackle and my knee gave out on me. It was at this moment that my injury hit me- there is really something wrong with my knee! Disappointed, I got off the field and watched the rest of the game from the sideline. By the time we drove 6 hours home from UNC, my knee was the size of a softball. Again, I thought I could take a few Ibuprofens and walk it off. The next day I could barely walk. I hobbled around campus for 3 days before finally going to the doctors. I got an MRI that revealed I had a significant tear in the ACL. I did my research and found a great orthopedic doctor. I scheduled my surgery ASAP so I could get back to sports. Unbeknownst to me, this event would change my life forever! I went to physical therapy and had some AWESOME therapists who helped rehab me back to sports… AND I haven’t had any issues since that injury in 2011!
I followed my new-found interest and am writing this blog as a physical therapist and performance coach that has worked on many patients after ACL injuries. I also focus on training athletes to mitigate the risk for tearing their ACL from happening in the first place (prehab instead of rehab).
Lessons I Learned Recovering From ACL Injury
- Know what type of field you are going to play on (we practiced on grass and some turf)
- If you play on turf, wear turf shoes (I wore cleats with large spikes…bad idea!)
- Practice plyometric exercises, ladder drills, deceleration/multidirectional drills, unilateral exercises, and reactive training (I was strong, but I lacked the neuromuscular coordination and cutting patterns)
- Make sure you rehab with the right people!!! (Find sports/performance therapists that can get you back to where you need to bridge that gap from rehab to sport)
- Be consistent with your workouts and make sure you return back to your sport with confidence (confidence comes from repetition and exposure to game type situations)
- Be patient, this is a long recovery! (Set mini goals along the way and work on other aspects to your sport -tactical aspects and/or skills of the sport that you can work on)
- It is not the end of the world!!! (Many people injury their ACL and bounce back from the injury without problems. It is only a temporary setback, and you never know, it may just be a blessing in disguise!!)
I hope this blog series answers some questions you may have and alleviates some worries if you haveinjured your ACL. If you take care of yourself, you can get back to full strength and continue to play your sport!
What do I do if I think I tore my ACL?
The best thing to do is seek medical attention. The sooner the better! Find a physical therapist, orthopedic doctor, or athletic trainer who will be able to perform special tests to identify if the ACL is ruptured before swelling sets in. If the injury is significant enough, the standard operating procedure will be get an X-ray then MRI. X-ray will tell you if there are any fractures and the MRI will tell you specific soft tissue structures that are damaged. The MRI is the golden standard for determining how much damage occurred.
Use the P.R.I.C.E acronym for the next step, combined with a little movement from the joints above and below. Ankle pumps are a go-to for blood circulation to assist with healing!
P = protection
R = rest
I = ice
C = compression
E = elevate
Also, please feel free to drop into any of our clinics even if you don’t have an appointment. We will be happy to do a quick assessment and determine the best course of action for you!!!
Stay tuned for Part 2 in our ACL series, about the rehab process after ACL injury.