An Overview on ACL Surgery
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments found within the knee joint responsible for stabilizing the joint. The ACL is located at the front (anterior) of the knee and crosses (cruciate) in front of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Many athletes injure their ACL while changing directions quickly, landing incorrectly from a jump or from a direct collision. Dr. Jervis Yau, orthopedic knee surgeon serving patients in the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California communities, may recommend an arthroscopic ACL surgery if the ligament experiences a high grade partial or complete tear. In many cases, ACL reconstruction will allow individuals to return to most of their favorite sports and recreational activities with full knee function.
It is estimated approximately 70% of ACL injuries occur from an acute traumatic event not involving direct contact with another individual. Many athletes stretch or tear the ligament when stopping suddenly, rapidly changing direction, incorrectly landing from a fall, or twisting their knee. Several studies have reported female athletes have an elevated risk of experiencing an ACL injury compared to male athletes.
When the ACL becomes stretched or torn, patients may experience a “popping” noise and sudden loss of stability. Joint instability is commonly followed by pain, tenderness and decreased range of motion.
ACL surgery is recommended by Dr. Yau in young active individuals who wish to return to pre-injury athletic participation. Because of its anatomy, function and poor blood supply, the ACL does not have the ability to heal correctly on its own. Because of this, it is best to reconstruct the torn ligament rather than trying to repair or let it heal. Dr. Yau commonly performs arthroscopic ACL reconstruction so patients can return to sports more rapidly and with less pain.
During ACL surgery, Dr. Yau will remove the damaged ACL followed by replacing it with a graft in the former ACL site. The graft is typically attached to the bone with special screws or suspensory device. Various graft choices are offered to reconstruct the damaged ligament. Dr. Yau will discuss the option of using native tissue from the patient (autograft) or processed cadaver tissue from a donor (allograft). Autograft choices include the hamstring versus patellar tendon grafts. After thorough consultation with Dr. Yau regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each, the appropriate graft will be determined prior to surgery.
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Recovery and Rehabilitation Following ACL Reconstruction
Following ACL surgery, patients will be placed in a brace and encouraged to use crutches for approximately 2 weeks to help protect the reconstructed ligament and facilitate healthy healing. A physical therapy program aimed at returning range of motion and muscle function will be initiated immediately after surgery. Patients are instructed to follow all rehabilitation guidelines prescribed by Dr. Yau to help ensure an efficient and successful outcome following primary ACL reconstruction. Recovery timeline varies between patients based on injury severity, age and concomitant injuries. Generally speaking, return to sports is between 6 to 12 months after surgery.
For additional resources on ACL surgery, such as an arthroscopic ACL reconstruction, please contact the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California orthopedic office of knee surgeon Dr. Jervis Yau.