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What is ACL Physiotherapy & When Is It Needed?
December 2016 - Tony Beecroft
ACL physiotherapy is treatment targeted at the ACL or anterior cruciate ligament. Athletes in particular are very prone to injuring their knee, particularly the ACL, which functions to stabilise the joint. This usually occurs when excessive stress is placed on the knee, stretching the ligament beyond its limits. It often doesn’t involve an outside force but a simple change in movement creating pressure around the area. An example would be suddenly pivoting or landing from a jump.
It’s most common among athletes because of the physical nature of sports and the greater stress placed on their bodies during these activities. The possibilities of such injuries are higher among contact sports such as in the AFL, soccer and netball. The 360° nature of how Australian football is played, the extreme athleticism and the required endurance levels, exposes the knee to potential harm. It’s therefore not surprising that common injuries are such as ACL tears and those similar occur.
Different Types of Knee Injuries & When to Have ACL Physio
ACL physiotherapy may or may not be necessary, depending on the seriousness of the injury. There are also other factors that affect the patient’s recovery and how much physiotherapy is needed, so situations can differ. The following are some of the most common knee injuries, the treatment needed and how long the healing usually takes:
1. Grade I Sprain.
Symptoms are at their mildest. The ligament has been stretched but managed to not tear. The knee remains stable but is sensitive to touch with some pain and redness. In this case, the knee does not require surgery but there might be some swelling. Mobility could be hindered to some extent. Rest, medication for the inflammation and ice are usually the only treatment needed for this injury with crutches for support when walking. ACL physio may not be needed but can hasten recovery. The healing period lasts from 1-2 weeks.
2. Grade II Sprain.
The patient suffers from a partially torn AC ligament. Swelling reaches moderate levels with some tenderness. Pain normally dissipates but the affected knee may emit the feeling of collapsing with use. It’s an uncommon case because rips tend to split right though the ligament. Knee braces would be needed for support during the first part of recovery as well as rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. Reconstruction would be decided based on the afflicted person’s severity of symptoms, activeness of lifestyle, age, and fitness goals. Knee physiotherapy exercises would aid the patient regain strength and mobility. Recovery time averages 4-12 weeks but some cases take longer which can be prevented with the help of ACL physio. Athletes can return to their sport once the knee is stable and movement becomes painless again.
3. Grade III Sprain.
This is the most common and the most severe level for this kind of injury in the sports industry. In this scenario, the ACL has been torn entirely. Pain is severe and so is swelling and redness, though there have been rare cases where these symptoms weren’t present. The knee is completely unstable and reconstructive surgery is necessary in most situations to remain active for 360° sports. Either crutches or knee braces will be needed for walking during the early stages of recovery. It’s not ideal to keep the knee immobile for more than a week as some mobility aids in speeding up the healing. Surgery may not be necessary if the athlete no longer plans to return to the sport but is recommended for better and speedier recovery because it can easily take much longer due to the severity. Swelling will begin to lessen once the ACL starts to heal while pain and discomfort will also dissipate after 4 weeks. Yet, it will take approximately 6-18+ months before the athlete can return to their sport.
The exact ACL physio exercises vary on a case-by-case basis so it’s advisable to see a knee physiotherapist for a proper assessment. For those who have experienced an ACL injury in the past, there is the likelihood that it can happen again so be aware of how your knees feel and take care with the activities you undertake. Consult with professionals on how to minimise any stress placed on your knees such as the right way to land from a jump. Better still seek advice from a physiotherapist on how to prevent these injuries before they happen.