After a sharp cut on the basketball court, or perhaps following a knee-to-knee collision while playing soccer with friends, you feel a “pop” in your knee. Swelling and pain develop, and you find that simple activities like walking are difficult due to instability in your knee.
Following a physical examination, an MRI confirms that you—like 250,000 other Americans every year—have torn your ACL.
3 common criteria to determine ACL graft candidates
Following your diagnosis of an ACL tear, a number of factors will help you and your surgeon determine if surgical reconstruction (i.e. an ACL graft) is the appropriate course of treatment.
If your injury is a complete tear, you’re a likely candidate for reconstruction if any one of these criteria is applicable to you:
- You are under the age of 55
- Your sport or occupation involves pivoting, jumping, etc.
- Other parts of your knee were damaged
3 common types of ACL grafts
If you elect for surgical reconstruction, a surgeon will remove the torn anterior cruciate ligament and craft a replacement, which is referred to as a “graft.” The three common types of materials used for ACL grafts are:
- A portion of a patient’s patellar tendon
- A portion of a patient’s hamstring tendon
- A portion of a tendon from a cadaver
No one type of graft is inherently superior to the others, but, as a general rule, results improve if patients choose the type of graft with which their surgeon has the most experience.
Additionally, each type of graft offers its own unique benefits:
- A patellar tendon graft heals rapidly
- A hamstring tendon graft is not associated with anterior knee pain, as is sometimes the case with a patellar graft
- A cadaver tendon graft does not require the removal of a patient’s own tendon
In addition to these benefits, each type of graft is also associated with its own unique disadvantages.
4 questions to ask about ACL grafts
So how do you decide which type of ACL graft is best for you? These four questions can help you choose:
- Which type of ACL graft does your doctor have the most experience with?
- Are you comfortable with the removal of a tendon?
- How important is quick healing time?
- How important is the avoidance of possible anterior knee pain?
Last but not least—don’t fret. An ACL graft likely doesn’t spell the end of your involvement with your favorite sport. Recovery time, including physical therapy, is typically between 6 to 12 months before most athletes can return to pre-injury activities.