Health Team

ACL Injuries = Surgery, Long Recovery

Posted January 10, 2008 1:56 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 10:23 p.m. EST

— ACL injuries have ended seasons and careers of many athletes. When the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is torn, it can mean surgery and a long recovery.

N.C. State starting guard Farnold Degand's season ended Dec. 23, and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Bobby Frasor stopped playing four days later. Both suffered the same knee injury, a torn ACL.

“This ligament keeps the tibia, the shin bone, from coming forward and helps control rotation,” said Dr. Tim Taft, a UNC orthopaedic surgeon who is treating Frasor.

UNC intramural soccer player Anne Immediata tore her ACL in November and plans to have surgery. Taft says an ACL tear is simple to diagnose.

“We move it back and forth, and you can see this jump. That jump cannot occur unless the ACL has been torn,” he said.

It's not typically caused by contact, but from sudden deceleration and then rotating the knee, Taft said. Female athletes are more vulnerable to the injury than men.

“I've been taking care of the UNC varsity athletic teams for about 30 years now, and we've just had our third ACL injury on the men's team. During that same time we've had 10 to 12 on the women's team,” Taft said.

An ACL injury means at least six to 12 months of recovery.

“Most athletes who've had their ACL reconstructed will say that they really aren't fully back until the second or sometimes the third year after their surgery,” Taft said.

Surgeons do the ACL reconstruction arthroscopically to minimize tissue damage.

For UNC athletes, Taft uses a piece of the patellar tendon with bone from the knee cap on one end and bone from the tibia on the other. They anchor those bone plugs down in the same area where the original ligament was.

With good muscle rehab before and after surgery, the technique seems to speed up full recovery, he said.