ACL Rehab Has a High Success Rate
Good news for boomers – those knee pains may not be the death knell to afternoons on the court.
Baby boomers are among the most active of aging cohorts, and this manifests in a high rate of sports related injuries. For many, months of rehabilitation followed by reduced activity is the only healthy response. But for those with injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), there is excellent reason to hope for better.
A recent study by orthopedic surgeons in California was performed on a study pool of people aged 50 and older (average age 57), who injured their ACL within the last two years, generally while playing sports. They received ACL reconstructive surgery and were followed for four years after. In an impressive show of success, 84% returned to their regular level of activity within two years, and their ACL returned to ordinary function.
This may be at least in part due to advances in ACL rehabilitation. In the past, rehab procedures focused predominantly on protecting the new ligament and the surgical fixation. This was discovered to cause stiffness and a limited range of motion, reducing the possibility that the injured person would return to full activity. More recently, rehabilitation post-ACL surgery has switched to a multi-phase program focused on restoring the maximum range of use to the muscle, using a wide variety of exercises.
The first phase, which begins the day of the surgery and continues for around two weeks, emphasizes minimizing post-op swelling, regaining full knee flexion and passive hyperextension, and walking unassisted. In the second phase, emphasis shifts to increasing strength and advanced flexion. At this point, the patient can return to an unrestricted daily routine. This phase lasts about a week. The third phase begins after a month and continues until the patient can return to their exercise regimen. It emphasizes progressive strength training and agility.
With good rehab, the patient can expect to return to a reduced level of sports activity within three months, and to regular sports activity within a year.