One of the most common injuries among athletes is a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In fact, every year in the United States, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 reported ACL tears and sprains.
The ACL is a band of tissue that stretches diagonally across the knee joining the thigh and shin bones. This ligament stabilizes the knee and controls the joint’s back and forth motion. An injury to this tissue is most common among athletes that play sports which involve changes in direction and sudden stopping such as volleyball, football, soccer, basketball, rugby, skiing, squash, and tennis. Injuries often occur when players collide with each other or land incorrectly.
How Bad is an ACL Injury?
If the knee and lower leg are twisted or if the lower leg extends too much then the ACL can tear, which typically results in a sharp pain and difficulty walking. Although it is possible to sprain or partially tear the ACL, it is actually more common for this injury to involve a full tear or rupture.
Although the initial pain of an ACL injury will start to subside when the swelling goes down, the knee can still be unstable. Without corrective treatment, it could subsequently give way when resuming sports, or even just when walking. Without treatment, the cartilage around the knee could also become damaged.
How is an ACL Treated?
A doctor can diagnose an ACL tear by manipulating the knee to assess the range of motion but in order to see the full extent of the tear, it will be necessary to undergo an ultrasound or MRI.
If the tear is not deemed to be too severe, the doctor might advise self-care. This would include resting the knee and keeping it elevated. Applying ice to the knee joint for up to twenty minutes every two hours and compression with a bandage or wrap may also be advised. This is known as ‘RICE’ therapy (rest, ice, compression, elevation).
Once the swelling has gone down, it will be necessary for the patient to have physical therapy to strengthen the joint. Some patients will be given a brace or crutches, which will ensure that weight is kept off the knee. Physical therapy will help to strengthen muscles and restore motion in the joint.
Surgery might also be advised and is typically recommended for more severe tears and for those athletes looking to get back to playing sport as soon as possible. Surgery involves replacing the damaged ligament with a piece of tendon. Tendons are tissue that connect bone to muscle and are similar to ligaments.
How Long Does It Take to Recover?
Recovery from a partially torn ACL typically takes around three months when physical therapy is included. However, for a severe tear, most athletes can expect to be out of action for between six months and a year. The longer the recovery period, the lower the risk of a repeat injury.
How Much Does ACL Surgery Cost?
As with all surgeries in the United States, ACL surgery can be expensive and how much one pays would be dependent on several things such as the surgeon’s rate, the insurance plan one has, and the network rate the insurance company has negotiated. Where the surgery is carried out will also affect the cost, as will any complications that occur during surgery.
Find-A-Code.com estimates that with medical billing through an insurance company, the patient can expect to pay up to $3,000, which would include post-surgical visits and hospital admission fees. Those without insurance could face a fee of up to $50,000.