ACL Reconstruction- A Personal Journey through a Common Sports Injury

Written by Elizabeth Anne Corbello, PA-C.  Anne is a physician assistant for Peter D. Vizzi M.D specializing in Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery.

Anterior cruciate ligament tears in the knee are a common sports related injury, and also one that I have experienced myself.I tore the ACL in my left knee when I was a senior soccer player at UL. I was a goalkeeper and I planted my foot, turned to dive for a ball, and I heard a pop and had immediate pain and swelling. Quick pivoting or twisting motions are a common mechanism of injury to the ACL and most people feel or hear a “pop” in the knee. The initial ACL injury is quickly followed by pain and swelling. It is difficult to bear weight initially, as the knee feels unstable. Shortly after my injury an MRI scan confirmed that I had completely torn my ACL, a crucial ligament for stability of the knee.I was devastated. I had never had an injury that took me out of any game before, much less a whole season. However, I continued to have a feeling that my knee would give out or buckle and I knew I could not continue to perform at the level needed for playing soccer.I now know through my medical practice that playing sports with an unstable knee is a risk, as it can cause further damage to other areas of the knee, such as the meniscus cartilage. I saw my orthopedic surgeon shortly after the injury and after hearing my history and performing a physical exam, he explained that my knee was unstable because of the ACL tear and he recommended surgical reconstruction of my ligament to stabilize my knee. He explained that at my age, I would need to have the surgery to remain active in sports so I underwent ACL reconstruction surgery. After surgery I worked hard in rehab, and eventually was able to return to soccer and sports.

When an athlete comes into our office after an injury, like an ACL tear, I have a great amount of empathy after my own personal experience.When counseling patients who are getting ready for ACL reconstruction, I find myself in a unique position having been through it myself as a college athlete.Now as a physician assistant, I am on the other side of the operating table. I am able to prepare patients for surgery, assist in the operating room, and help guide and encourage patients through their post-operative course.When preparing for ACL reconstruction, or any surgery, it is important to have an understanding of what is involved, from the day of surgery, through recovery, and rehab. It is important to ask your doctor questions before any surgery. For ACL reconstruction specifically some questions to ask are what type of graft is best for you, what to expect before and after surgery and what is involved in the post-operative rehab. It is also critical to follow your doctor’s instructions as far as when it is safe to progress in your rehab and activities. After my experience having a significant sports injury, having a reconstructive knee surgery, going through rehab, and seeing many patients do the same, I’m confident in saying that with hard work, a positive attitude and a little patience and perseverance it is possible to successfully return to sports and activities after ACL reconstruction.