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Health Team

New research: With surgery, rehab ACL patients can have good results

Posted June 6, 2018 6:06 p.m. EDT

— Athletes dread a three-letter injury called ACL - or a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Many athletes blame the injury for ending their sports career.

New research from the Cleveland Clinic shows that with proper surgery and rehabilitation many ACL injury patients can have good results for years to come.

According to doctors, some patients were doing even better than expected.

"As a population, whatever their outcomes are – sports, pain and function – what they had at two years, they maintained that at six years and 10 years. So, there was no drop off, which was quite surprising," said Dr. Kurt Spindler, an orthopedic surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic.

Researchers examined nearly 1,600 patients with ACL tears and followed up with most of them after 2 to 6 and 10 years.

While people reported a drop-off in their physical activity 10 years after surgery, their pain and sports scores remained constant.

The progress people achieved one year after surgery remained unchanged after two years. That means that proper rehab during that first year after surgery is critical.

But, on the flip side, doctors said certain factors enabled researchers to predict which patients would not do as well over the long term.

"Some of the things like any damage to your articular cartilage; any revision surgery, anyone with a higher BMI, any smoker, those things gave you a worse outcome," Spindler said.

Spindler said a torn ACL will not repair on its own without surgery.

The ACL knee injury study is published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.