A tear in the knee's anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a common sports injury. And it's becoming more common as women, who are more prone to the injury, increasingly play competitive sports.
Although an ACL tear can be treated with non-surgical methods, surgery is usually preferred for young people. Surgery is also recommended for anyone who wishes to return to a sport that involves jumping or any sudden stopping or turning, such as basketball, soccer, football, tennis, and other sports.
Study uncovers arthritis 1 year after surgery
Although ACL surgery can successfully return injured athletes to play, the surgery raises the risk for future osteoarthritis in the knee—and new evidence suggests that, for many, this future might not be very far off.
Researchers wanted to examine the evidence for arthritis 1 year after an ACL reconstruction procedure. They performed MRI knee scans on 111 participants, with an average age of 30, who'd had this procedure a year earlier.
The MRIs revealed that nearly a third of them (31%) already had evidence of osteoarthritis damage in the repaired knee. In addition, two factors seem to raise osteoarthritis risk specifically in the tibiofemoral joint:
- Those who underwent a meniscectomy (removal of torn meniscus) at the same time as the ACL reconstruction had 7 times the risk.
- Those who were overweight or obese (a BMI greater than 25) had 3 times the risk.1
But before you think that it's wiser to skip surgery for ACL tears, keep in mind that, when it's caught early, osteoarthritis can be managed well and its progression slowed. In addition, study participants were not asked about their symptoms, and it's fairly common for those with osteoarthritis to experience a disconnect between the extent of joint damage and the severity of their symptoms.
Ways to prevent ACL injuries
The best way to decrease your risk for osteoarthritis may be to decrease your risk for an ACL injury in the first place.
To prevent ACL injuries:
- Practice strength training, particularly for the hamstring and gluteus muscles.
- Do endurance training a few weeks prior to your sport's season to build your stamina.
- Work with a coach, trainer, or sports medicine specialist to assess your specific techniques and biomechanics to make sure you're using proper form.
- Culvenor AG, Collins NJ, Guermazi A, et al. Early knee osteoarthritis is evident one year following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: a magnetic resonance imaging evaluation. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2015;67(4):946-55. 2015 Feb 18. [Epub ahead of print]