An awkward landing, a loud pop, and all you can think about is ‘what just happened to my knee?’ As an athlete, the last words you want to hear are torn ACL or anything about structural damage to the knee. Anxiously waiting, the doctor comes in and finally tells you those dreaded words–you have a torn ACL. Aside from the physical pain you’re in, just hearing those words causes additional anxiety and frustration. Once you work through the despair of your season being over, you start thinking about the question you hoped to never have to ask: can I return from this injury?
Having torn an ACL twice in my soccer career, I know this is a question that comes to mind immediately for injured athletes ACL tears, or any significant injuries to the knees, are a scary thought, and are often severe. However, they are not as career-ending as once thought. The most severe of knee tears, the ACL tear, has progressed substantially in terms of repair and recovery. For a young athlete, the repair may be done from their own body, which leads to small scars and even just arthroscopic surgery to repair. The difficult part is never in the repair, however, it is always in the road to recovery after.
For ACL tears, often times, the recovery takes between 9 – 12 months. Wondering how to get better on the shorter end of that timeline? Rehab, rehab, rehab.
This does not mean go overboard and try and push yourself beyond what your doctors say…it actually means the exact opposite.
Doctors will give you a detailed plan to return, and if you dedicate yourself to rehabilitating your knee according to that plan, just like you would dedicate in training, you can return after a knee injury. As rehab goes on, doctors will assess your progress, and if progressing correctly, may allow you to start training and returning to play.
Take this as a prime case study: In 2008, I tore my ACL for the first time during a high school basketball game. Awkwardly landing after a layup, I heard the dreaded pop in my knee and the road to return began. After surgery in March, I dedicated myself to doing what I needed to at rehab and the extra stuff outside. In August of 2008, I returned to the soccer field and excelled during my senior season.
Knee injuries are not the end of the world. Instead, they are an opportunity to test your character.
Both of my ACL tears gave me opportunities to refine my understanding of the game and to learn how to control myself while playing.
If you are told you have an injury to your knee, don’t start thinking that you won’t be able to play again. Look at the growth you can have during your time of rehab, and attack a knee injury as you would attack training–give it your all, and you’ll succeed.