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Dealing with The Uncertainty of An ACL Injury

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

To an athlete any injury is unwelcome, but an ACL injury is the worst of them all. Kevin and EeHuey, two of our BMT-ers, were keen to share their experiences, especially on dealing with the uncertainty of the recovery journey.

A severe injury to the anterior cruciate ligament is the bane of all athletes everywhere. Depending on the severity of the tear, athletes have to undergo surgery or intense rehabilitation exercises to build their knee back up.

A small tear to the tiny, yet vital ligament, leaves athletes sidelined for at least a year with varying recovery timelines. Unfortunately, this injury has no guaranteed 100% recovery rate and the journey to recovery differs for each individual.

It is also more common and severe in females, compared to males. This is because when females jump, they land in riskier positions with greater inward hip movement. Females also favour quadricep over hamstring use, which leads to a muscle imbalance that compromises knee stability.

Prevention programs such as balancing, agility, plyometrics, strengthening and conditioning exercises and lessons on how to properly jump and land, have been shown to decrease the risk of injury. Similarly, rehabilitation programs after such an injury have also proven to help.

To provide an insight on how recovery timelines can differ, we spoke to two of our BMT'ers who were keen to share about their personal experiences before they met us.

Kevin Tan

Kevin Tan back on the field after his ACL recovery. Image credit: 175g
Kevin Tan back on the field after his ACL recovery. Image credit: 175g

I completely tore my left ACL in 2012 and had to reconstruct it using my left patella tendon. I went through surgery and was able to regain full function of my knee within a year. It took a lot of patience and persistence. After the surgery, I did static strengthening workouts and daily stretches, twice a day for one month. I began to incorporate dynamic workouts like single-leg stair climbs and balancing workouts with my static workouts for another month.

On the 3rd month onwards, I did purely dynamic workouts twice a day and never stopped stretching. By the 5th month, I could start jogging, do assisted squats and light lateral workouts. I continued with these workouts, building my muscles on my left knee until it was the same size as the right.

After 6 months, I could finally return to the field. I started light frisbee training and joined a tournament two months later. Realizing that I should not compromise the recovery process, I stopped joining tournaments until my legs were the same size.

A year after surgery, I managed to build my knee up and started on more strengthening exercises by going back to the gym.

It was only in 2017 when I joined BMT to strengthen and condition myself specifically for the Asia Oceanic Ultimate and Guts Club Championships 2017.

EeHuey Ng

EeHuey on the field, before her injury. Image credit: Sate Ultimate Frisbee
EeHuey on the field, before her injury. Image credit: Sate Ultimate Frisbee

I tore my left ACL in 2015 and MRI scans showed that it was a full ACL tear, partial meniscus and partial PCL tear. I had my first rehab session, three days after the surgery where the patella tendon was used to reconstruct the ACL.

But I stopped after a month because there was a constant sharp pain in the knee. For two years, the pain persisted and I tried various ways of mitigating the pain. I had three steroid jabs and one PRP injection in attempts to heal the meniscus as it was thought the meniscus was flaking about, causing the pain.

However, the pain did not subside and I decided to exercise with the pain as my knee needed to regain its strength. After three and a half years, the pain has subsided gradually, but it does come back once in a while.

When that happens, I wear a knee brace to help during workouts and put on cold patches or ointments after the workouts. Many have asked me if I should continue at all, since the pain is still persistent. Perhaps it needs to heal fully with enough rest, so I have tried stopping before but I feel weak and the pain worsens.

I still manage with the pain and hope that building up the knee muscles will help dissolve the pain one day.

Dealing with the uncertainty

The knee is the biggest and most complex joint and an injury to it will take a while to recover. As the joint is made up of cartilages, ligaments, tendons and bones, the risk of injury is naturally higher. When one of these gets compromised, the rest of the joint needs to compensate to bear the weight of natural movements like walking and standing.

As we have seen, Kevin and EeHuey have similar injuries to the ACL and both have taken the patella tendon to reconstruct it, but their recovery journey is drastically different. True enough, EeHuey sustained more injuries with a partial meniscus and partial PCL tear, which may have hindered the recovery process, but enough rest should have helped her recover. Instead, she felt more pain when she rested.

Therefore, there is no one-stop solution for all ACL injuries. Each knee reacts differently to the injury and a catered recovery program through much trial and error is the best way to approach it. Having a good support system and someone to guide you through it is vital as well. But the most important key, is to have patience and persistence.

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Recovering from an ACL injury? We can help you customise a recovery program for you! Just drop us a message at [email protected].

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