In April of 2016, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber suffered what many believed to be a season ending tear of his ACL. Now Schwarber is a World Series champion—having played in 4 of the 7 World Series games.
With ACL injuries back in the news, we thought it was a good time to discuss your treatment options for an ACL injury.
Treatment immediately following an ACL injury
Before we talk about your long-term treatment options, let’s take a quick look at how to care for your ACL immediately following your injury.
As is the case with many sports-related injuries, you should follow the R.I.C.E. treatment protocol immediately after your ACL injury:
Rest. Avoid activities that place stress on your injured knee.
Ice. Apply cold therapy to your injured area. Typically, it’s best to apply cold therapy for 15 minutes and then take a break for 1 to 2 hours.
Compression. A compression wrap, such as an elastic bandage, can be applied to minimize swelling and provide mild support.
Elevation. Raise your injured knee above your heart to reduce the pooling of fluid.
You might be surprised to learn that not everyone who experiences an ACL injury requires surgery. You may be a candidate for nonsurgical treatment if you meet one of the following criteria:
- Older than 55
- Participate in a sport that does not require sudden stops or turns, such as biking or swimming
- Suffered only a partial ACL tear
Nonsurgical treatment of an ACL injury typically involves an extended period of physical therapy with a focus on increasing strength, balance, and body positioning.
In some cases, surgery is the most appropriate treatment option for an ACL tear. ACL surgery involves a surgeon removing your injured ACL and creating a replacement using a graft.
The graft may be crafted from your patellar tendon, hamstring tendon, or from a cadaver. No type of graft is more effective than any other (aside from that with which your surgeon is most experienced)—but each has its own unique drawbacks and benefits.
Following your surgery, a robust physical therapy program is key to maximizing the long-term success of your surgery.
If you opt for an ACL surgery, you can expect to return to full sports participation within 6 to 12 months. Kyle Schwarber was on the low end of this spectrum, as he returned from his ACL surgery after less than 7 months to help the Cubs win their first World Series in over a century.