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When Early ACL Reconstruction Is Needed

A serious anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury can cause more than just temporary pain. ACL ruptures can cause instability in the knee, holding back athletes and non-athletes alike. Upon hearing an audible pop, individuals affected often feel immediate pain and swelling. In some cases, non-surgical treatment is an option, but other cases require early ACL reconstruction.

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ACL injuries

A complex system of ligaments and tendons sustains and supports joints associated with the movement of the knee. In knee structures, the ACL can be a common injury, especially in athletes. There are approximately 100,000-200,000 ACL tears per year in the United States.

A deteriorating meniscus

When the ACL is not providing sufficient support in the knee, the meniscus cartilage pads have a higher risk of injury. The meniscus cushions the joint and allows bones to glide against each other. The menisci are also the knee’s shock absorbers. If ACL tears are left untreated or are treated too late, the meniscus can get torn, and a patient’s risk of developing osteoarthritis can increase.

ACL and meniscus repair

ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair are some of the most commonly performed arthroscopic surgeries. People with a torn ACL are at greater risk of damaging the meniscus. Data shows that 60% of patients with an ACL tear will also have a torn meniscus. Fortunately, almost all ACL reconstruction surgeries have a high success rate.

A torn ACL requires surgical grafting to replace the tissue. While doctors may use the patient’s tendons, human donor tissue can also be used. After the surgery, patients are recommended to attend rehabilitation programs to improve the range of motion, flexibility, and strength of the surrounding muscles. Recovery times can range between 6-9 months.

Early ACL reconstruction is recommended

There are many studies that have found that significant delays in ACL reconstruction can increase the risk of meniscus and cartilage damage. Early ACL reconstruction can improve stability, range of motion, muscle power, and postural control.

Is there such a thing as too early?

There are no standard timelines for when ACL reconstruction surgery should be done. Generally, patients are advised to avoid using the affected leg. Additionally, elevating the leg, applying ice, and taking pain reduction medications can help after an injury.

When to consider early ACL surgery

An ACL reconstruction is typically performed between 3-6 weeks after an injury. Swelling and inflammation must subside before performing the surgery. Getting surgery done too early can increase the patient’s risk of developing arthrofibrosis, or heavy scarring. Doctors consider nearby injuries, pain level, range of motion, and muscle control before moving forward with early ACL reconstruction to prevent complications down the line. Patients with an ACL injury should speak with a healthcare provider about treatment and reconstruction options.

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