The three bones — your thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap — that meet to form your knee joint are held together by ligaments, which are short bands of flexible, fibrous connective tissue. Although there are four main ligaments that help stabilize your knee joint, the one that does the most to reinforce your knee and help you balance is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Your ACL crosses diagonally through the middle of your knee joint, providing rotational stability and preventing your shinbone from sliding out in front of your thighbone when you move directionally. It makes sense, then, that your ACL is most susceptible to injury when you’re twisting, rotating, pivoting, stepping sideways, or decelerating. That’s why ACL tears are one of the most common sports-related injuries.
ACL injuries are typically easy to diagnose. Some people hear a loud “pop” when the injury occurs, while others experience instant and often severe knee pain. Inflammation and limited range of motion soon follow.
Although many people can find sufficient healing, lasting pain relief, and restored joint function with a conservative, nonsurgical treatment approach that emphasizes bracing, physical therapy, and long-term rehabilitation, a torn ACL won’t heal completely without surgery.
If you’re considering reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL, here’s what you should know.
Reconstruction surgery basics
Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people experience an ACL tear, making it one of the most common acute knee injuries. Because ACL tears vary, ranging from a partial tear to a complete rupture, treatment recommendations are equally customized: Some people do well with structured recovery and rehabilitation, while others benefit most from reconstruction surgery followed by rehab.
But even if conservative treatment measures help restore a high level of functionality, reconstruction surgery is the only way to restore complete joint stability.
Most ACL tears can’t simply be stitched back together. To repair the ligament properly and restore complete stability, it must be surgically reconstructed. ACL reconstruction surgery replaces a torn tendon with a tissue graft, which is often obtained from the patellar tendon that runs between your kneecap and your shinbone.
This tissue graft acts as a kind of scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on. Although tissue regrowth takes time — it may be six months or more of rehab before you can resume your normal activity level — you can expect to return to your pre-injury quality of life once the healing process is complete.
ACL reconstruction surgery uses minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques to get the job done with smaller incisions, less pain, less time in the hospital, and a speedier recovery overall.
Reconstruction surgery candidates
Reconstruction surgery is typically recommended for active adults of all ages who are involved in sports, perform heavy manual labor, or otherwise take part in activities that require pivoting, turning, or hard cutting. It’s also recommended for men and women with ACL injuries that are accompanied by significant functional instability, as it’s the best way to prevent secondary knee damage as time goes on.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a highly active person, reconstruction surgery may still be the most appropriate solution if any other part of your knee joint — your menisci, articular cartilage, collateral ligaments, joint capsule, or any combination of these — also sustained some amount of damage. In such cases, surgical treatment generally produces better outcomes.
Reconstruction surgery benefits
The primary benefit of reconstruction surgery is that it’s the only way to restore full stability and functionality to a knee joint affected by a torn or ruptured ACL. In and of itself, this makes the decision to have surgery a relatively easy one for most athletic or active people who don’t want a long-standing knee condition to slow them down.
Even better, ACL reconstruction has a long-term success rate of 82-95 percent, meaning that out of every 100 people who have the surgery, only 5-18 people go on to develop the kind of complications that warrant a second reconstruction surgery.
Research shows that compared to those who opt for conservative solutions, people who treat their ACL injuries surgically are more likely to return to and maintain the same level of activity and quality of life that they had before they were injured. They’re also less likely to experience cartilage degeneration around the initial injury site as time goes on.
Some studies even suggest that reconstruction surgery can actually help keep osteoarthritis at bay or slow its rate of progression.
On the whole, ACL reconstruction surgery also tends to be more cost-effective than physical therapy, bracing, and other nonsurgical treatments. In fact, a recent study found that patients who choose ACL reconstruction over more conservative measures spend an average of $4,000 less for better short-term outcomes, and over $50,000 less over the course of a lifetime.
Here at Tri-State Orthopaedics in Memphis and Germantown, Tennessee, we’ve seen just how effective ACL reconstruction surgery can be in helping people of all ages restore knee joint stability and return to their pre-injury level of activity.
To find out if it’s the best option for you, call your nearest office today, or use our easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Dalal any time.