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ACL rupture – do you need surgery? Todays topic is all about a common injury we see in football and netball players. It can be season-ending, or even career ending.

What is an ACL rupture?

This means rupture of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). This is where one of the main ligaments deep inside your knee is completely torn. This can leave your knee relatively unstable.

How does it happen?

Often an ACL rupture happens during a sudden change of direction when playing sport. Otherwise it often happens from a contact injury such as when you’re tackled from the side, with force pushing your knee inwards while your foot is fixed to the ground. This will often also cause damage to the meniscus. The meniscus is a structure that helps to absorb shock in the knee.

Do I need surgery to repair my ACL rupture?

If you are young, fit and want to get back to a pivoting sport e.g. football, hockey, soccer, netball, then you will likely be recommended to have surgery. There is emerging evidence that many ACL ruptures will recover equally well by having a surgical repair, or by rehabilitation without surgery. Depending on many factors, your specialist and physio may encourage a 3 month period or non-operative rehabilitation, to regain as much function as possible without surgical intervention. If you’re progressing well by 3 months, you may not need surgery

There are many factors to consider in this situation, so we suggest you gain as much information as you can from your specialist and an experienced physiotherapist.

Surgery or no surgery, either way, your physiotherapist will play a big role in rehabilitation.

How can physio help an ACL reconstruction?

In the first few weeks after your injury, your sports physio will assist to reduce swelling, and keep your knee moving as much as possible. This includes addressing muscle guarding, and managing the inflammation associated with the rupture.

If you don’t need surgery, your physio will work closely with you to reduce pain and swelling. Then rehab focusses on re-training your leg muscles through strength, balance and proprioception exercises to stabilise the knee, and help you get back to your the activities and sport you love to do.

If you require surgery, your physio will teach you about pre-operative rehabilitation. This involves strengthening your leg before the surgery happens, plus give you a head start on exercises and advice for post-operative recovery.

Your surgeon will tell you when you can start physiotherapy after surgery.

After surgery, your sports physio will provide treatment, advice and exercises over the following stages:

  • Early recovery: reducing swelling and inflammation, regaining full range of movement in your knee
  • Mid-stage recovery: focus on strength, balance and gradual return to function
  • Late-stage recovery: build up strength, agility and work on sports-specific skills including running, jumping and cutting activities.

Your physio will guide you through each stage of your recovery. Exact timeframes differ from person to person, and knee to knee. After a surgical repair of an ACL injury, you will likely need 9 – 12 months before returning to sport.

Have you ruptured your ACL?

Or are you concerned you might have damaged it?

Our sports physios can check your knee stability, and if needed, send you for imaging. Book Online to see one of our physios now.