When ACL Surgery is the Right Decision – Maintaining a Patient’s Active Lifestyle

By: Dr. Tony Nguyen, MD, The CORE Institute, special to SportsMD.com

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear is considered one of the most common knee injuries among adults, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Professional and recreational athletes who participate in sports like football, soccer or basketball are more susceptible to injure their ACL. When an individual has an acute trauma to the knee, he or she may hear a pop and then experience immediate swelling. At this point, it’s recommended to see a physician for treatment.

That’s just what one of my patients experienced. Several years ago, Jonathon Simpson injured his knee while playing in a recreational basketball league. His doctor instructed him to rest, and his knee eventually healed on its own. But last year, Jonathon began experiencing pain again in the same knee. During a basketball game, Jonathon’s knee could no longer bear weight when he came down on it. His knee buckled, and he fell to the ground. An MRI revealed Jonathon had torn his ACL. That’s when he turned to The CORE Institute for comprehensive treatment.

Jonathon was able to quickly schedule an appointment with me to discuss treatment options after his injury. When we met, I explained the different types of treatment that were available. Based on his age and activity level, I recommended surgery because I thought it would provide the best outcome.

While there are alternative treatment options for a torn ACL, surgery is often recommended for individuals who are young and active. During the procedure, orthopedic surgeons carefully reconstruct the ACL so that knee stability is reestablished, and the previous level of activity can be resumed.

Jonathon was an excellent candidate for surgery. Our goal was to restore his knee and get him back to doing the activities he enjoyed.

A few weeks following our initial appointment, Jonathon underwent surgery to reconstruct his ACL at The CORE Institute. During surgery, I also discovered that Jonathon had damage to his meniscus, which we successfully repaired during the procedure while we were repairing his ACL. Following surgery, Jonathon spent two weeks at home to rest and recover. Jonathan says that the swelling went down quickly, and the pain was not nearly as bad as expected.

After a follow-up appointment, Jonathon was cleared to begin physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion in his knee. We connected Jonathan with a physical therapist at The CORE Institute, who put together a comprehensive, individualized rehabilitation plan.

ACL surgery recovery time usually takes between six months and a year before a patient can get back to their pre-operative level of function. However, Jonathon was very active and fit prior to surgery which helped set him up for success. Jonathan’s physical therapist worked closely with him to first reach small goals like walking. After a few weeks, he was back in the gym. Jonathan was given targeted exercises he could do on his own — in addition to ongoing physical therapy — to strengthen his knee.

Jonathon was very ambitious to reach every milestone. He breezed through the exercises so quickly that we had to slow him down a bit to avoid re-injury to the knee and safely get him back to playing basketball. After seven months of physical therapy, Jonathon was back on the basketball court. He says that his knee felt good and strong, and that he was confident it would not give out again.

ACL injury (Flickr/sportEX medicine)

Jonathon also began training for a Ragnar Relay, a team race comprised of 18 miles of trail running and completed his first one just six months following surgery. Today, Jonathon exercises regularly, incorporating agility drills into his workouts to keep his knee strong. He says he is very happy that his knee was able to heal completely, and that he could remain active.

For those who currently experience knee pain or think they may have suffered an injury to their ACL, know that there are options when it comes to treatment. I recommend scheduling an appointment with a specialist to help you identify the best treatment plan to fit your lifestyle.

Dr. Tony Nguyen, MD, is a board certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine and trauma. He currently serves as the Team Doctor for Sandra Day O’Connor High School and Cactus Shadows High School.

Dr. Nguyen completed a Sports Medicine fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. During this time, he served as team physician for athletic teams across the state of Texas, including the Houston Texans, Rockets, Astros, Dynamos, as well as the collegiate teams at the University of Houston.


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Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at jerry (at) jerrymilani (dot) com.