Can You Play Sports With A Torn ACL?


The ACL, one of the 4 ligaments of the knee, connects the thigh bone (femur) with the shin bone (tibia). Hence a tear in the ACL can make the knee joint unstable or insatiable. The incidence of this ligament tear is very commonly observed in young athletes who play sports that involve contact or collision. Hence, the injury is common in sports such as basketball, tennis, soccer, and volleyball. Landing from a jump, running, planting your foot to change the direction can be painful during sports if your ligament is not intact.

It can be quite difficult to manage a stable knee with a strap, sleeve, or knee brace if the mild tear is not healed or it is completely torn. Also, it is not safe to get back to sports in full form without the surgery for a severe or complete ACL tear.

Knee braces will only provide support and you may still have the chance of knee-buckling. while playing a sport. Knee buckling is a condition in which the knee joint may give up or become damaged beyond repair. ACL reconstruction is advised by orthopedic surgeons in such severe cases where non-surgical treatment fails to work. ACL reconstruction surgery is one of the most common orthopedic surgeries.

Surgery for ACL tear is necessary before getting back to sports 

If the tear is severe, i.e. Grade 2 and 3 ACL tear, there are high chances of the following problems in continuing with the sports

  1. A completely torn ACL cannot heal on its own- Surgical treatment is necessary to reconstruct a torn ACL. Non-surgical treatments, commonly known as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can only offer temporary relief but won’t enable the ligament to regenerate.
  2. Exposure of the meniscus to damage- An ACL tear increases the risks for damage to the other cartilage as well. The meniscus is also known as the “cushion cartilage”. A tear in the ACL often exposes the meniscus to potential further damage if you continue playing high-intensity sports. This is the primary reason that in many cases, a torn meniscus is also observed along with the torn ACL.
  3. The damaged meniscus can cause osteoarthritis- The meniscus also works like a “shock- absorber” for the knee joint. Delaying the treatment for ACL tear or continuing with sports after the injury, damages the meniscus beyond repair. This can further lead to arthritis of the knee joint (osteoarthritis). In this condition, the cartilage and the bone of the knee joint degenerate. 

The only way to remain safe from these aforementioned risks after an ACL tear is to undergo reconstruction surgery.

What do you need to know about ACL reconstruction surgery?

ACL reconstruction surgery is a safe surgical procedure that enables an individual to regain natural knee movements. At present, the arthroscopic procedure of ACL reconstruction is more preferred by orthopedic surgeons as it is minimally invasive.

In this surgery, the surgeon uses a graft to repair the knee joint. The graft can be your tendon from the hamstring (tendons present at the back of the knee). Such a graft from the patient’s own body is called autograft. In some cases, the surgeon may use an allograft, i.e. graft or the tendon donated by another individual. 

This advanced approach is preferable also because the arthroscope allows the surgeon to precisely view the internal parts of the knee. Unlike open surgery, the arthroscopic technique requires only 2-3 minor incisions for inserting an arthroscope and other surgical tools for the repair. The blood loss, chances of post-surgery complications are minimal for the arthroscopic ACL reconstruction technique. The surgery prevents the recurrence of pain, swelling, and inflammation. Thus, it is the long-term and most effective solution for ACL tear(s).

After recovering from the surgery, you can resume sports, gym, dancing, and other physical activities without any worries. 

When can you return to sports after ACL surgery?

The doctors advise that you should not resume sports until complete recovery to avoid the risk of reinjury. You can return to sport within 4-9 months, depending upon various factors. The exact time of recovery can vary for each patient. Doctors suggest that returning to sports after the surgery for ACL tear can take longer as they may require to put in extra effort for physical exercises and therapy. You must maintain regular follow-ups with your doctor to keep a track of your recovery. 

Tips to help you recover faster from an ACL reconstruction surgery

  • For the first two weeks, ensure that you mostly keep your leg elevated above the heart level. Use cold-compression within every 2-4 hours for 10-20 minutes. Doing so will provide relief.  
  • For the next 4 weeks (second to the sixth week of recovery) gradually start walking around in the house. You can also do some leg exercises for 15-20 minutes every day as recommended by the doctor. Wear a knee brace while exercising.
  • After six weeks, gradually resume running activities. Also, keep in mind that jumping and agility training should be performed only after taking permission from your surgeon.
  • Follow your physiotherapy plan throughout the recovery and do not stop abruptly.
  • Take pain-management medicines as prescribed by your doctor and refrain from discontinuing or overdosing without consultation. 

Take Away

It is better to get the best-suited treatment for your ACL tear and then only get back to sports. It can be too dangerous to continue with high-intensity activities with a torn ACL. The sooner you get the treatment, the lesser are the chances of unforeseen troubles. And, if the tear is severe, get done with the safe advanced arthroscopic surgery. Get a detailed consultation with an orthopedic surgeon and clear all your queries and misconceptions around the surgery.  

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