Successful Return to Sport After ACL Injury with Acupuncture and Physical Therapy
According to a recent article in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, rupture is “one of the most physically, financially, and emotionally devastating sport-related knee injuries,” which is something I can personally attest to.
I tore my ACL in 2003 and had reconstructive surgery because I wanted to return to sport which, at the time, was martial arts. I had good insurance then as well so my out of pocket costs were manageable, but I remember seeing the hospital bill - $50,000.
It took an entire year of weekly acupuncture and Physical Therapy for me to participate in my sport at the level I wanted to, and it was two years before I didn’t notice my knee feeling different during activity.
I am proud to say, however, that one year after my surgery I successfully completed a very vigorous 24 hour martial arts test including 12 hours of continuous fighting, running and forms. A decade later, my ACL repair is still holding strong with no concerns.
What I didn’t know until I read this article, was how rare my case is. Only 44% of athletes successfully return to sport after an average 3-1/2 years following an ACL repair. When quizzed about their subjective experience of performance after a successful ACL repair and return to sport, only 50% percent of high-school and college athletes indicated that they were able to perform at their pre-injury level.
Furthermore, up to 30% of athletes who return to sport after an ACL repair re-injure their ACL or tear the ACL on the opposite knee due to a number of factors, neuromuscular weakness and asymmetry primary among them. Due in part to the increased joint laxity and increased angle between hip and knee, female athletes with previous ACL repair are 4 times more likely to re-injure their knees after returning to sport compared to their male counterparts!
My ACL repair actually puts me in the top 5% of female athletes who have an ACL repair. I absolutely credit my success to the individualized and dynamic Physical Therapy I received along with consistent Acupuncture treatments. I actually started acupuncture two days after my surgery and continued treatment every week for an entire year, and then every other week for 2 years thereafter. Even my surgeon was amazed with my recovery (and he was the surgeon for the Blazers here in Portland).
Preventing an ACL Injury
So if you are engaged in sport, how do you prevent an ACL injury? Sometimes you just can’t, life happens, but you can greatly decrease the possibility of injury with proper neuromuscular training. According to this research article, of primary importance are the following:
Regular acupuncture is also recommended. Acupuncture can decrease and resolve minor aches and pains, keep muscles physically loose and energetically balanced, and cause natural endorphins and anti-inflammatories to be released by the body improving performance and recovery rates for minor injuries.
Recovering from an ACL Injury
If you are unfortunate enough to experience an ACL injury or tear, there is still a lot you to can do to ensure a strong recovery and decrease your likelihood of experiencing a secondary ACL injury.
My go to Physical Therapist for knee injury prevention, knee injury, ACL injury and ACL surgery recovery is my husband - Brian Kitzerow, DPT at Goodell Physical Therapy. He always keeps up on the latest research and has a thoughtful and thorough approach to every patient.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation there were 49,798 car accidents reported in 2012 and 36,085 people were injured in those accidents. That is an average of 136 crashes PER DAY in Oregon alone! And did you know that the highest incidents of crashes occurred on Fridays and in October? [Note to self; try not to drive on Fridays in October!]
All levity aside, a car accident is no joke, as the 36,000 injured people in 2012 can attest. The force of impact that the body is made to endure in even a minor car accident causes a ripple effect of muscular tension which can result in whiplash, headache, back pain, decreased range of motion and sciatica to name just a few.
None of these things should be left untreated and the sooner you get in for treatment, the sooner you can head off pain and injury in the early stages and avoid major problems down the line. Some of these effects such as whiplash are immediate, but others occur due to compensation over time and the best remedy is to get treatment early - within the first two weeks of an accident ideally.
Acupuncture for auto accident recovery is highly effective, and if you combine acupuncture with Physical Therapy and Massage your recovery is expedited even more.
Acupuncture by itself gives great hope for recovery. It can:
Testimonial from an Auto Accident Treatment Patient
After my auto accident, my pain levels made it hard for me to both concentrate and to physically sit long enough to do my work. My acupuncture treatments with Rebecca were and continue to be a critical part of my recovery from the accident, as they provided immediate relief for the acute pain and gave me three or four days of respite from it after treatment. Of all the healing modalities I tried - massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, and acupuncture - acupuncture proved to be the one that was the best at keeping pain to manageable levels, thus allowing me to get back to the work I love doing.
Combining Modalities in Car Accident Treatment Gives Best Results
Massage or foot reflexology is something I add into all of my acupuncture treatments for at least 5-10 minutes, but I encourage all patients who come in for auto accident treatment to come in for 90 minute acupuncture + massage sessions so we have more time to spend on bodywork (massage). It helps that if you have an auto accident in Oregon, acupuncture and massage are covered 100% by your auto insurance without a referral!
I often incorporate Cupping and Gua Sha - traditional Chinese myofascial release techniques to relieve pain and stagnation - into car accident treatments as well. This too, I find, helps patients recover faster after an auto accident or MVA (motor vehicle accident) by helping the body relieve tension and flush out toxins that may be associated with tense guarded muscles.
Lastly I always recommend patients see a Physical Therapist as part of their car accident treatment plan, because while acupuncture can help balance the body, reduce and often completely relieve pain from whiplash, headache, back spasm, sciatica and certainly helps to increase range of motion, it can’t assess your posture or potential repetitive motion injury sources in your daily life that could aggravate your pain and delay healing.
In my experience as both a motor vehicle accident treatment patient AND a provider, no one is a better mechanic for the body than a Physical Therapist, and when you combine the pain relief and Qi balancing of Acupuncture and massage, with the mechanical reprogramming of physical therapy exercise, your results are quick and long lasting.
The most important message here is that no matter what you do, get treatment early. Ideally within those first two weeks of having a car accident. Sometimes it takes 10-14 days for the full effects of a car accident to “wear in” to the body, so if you can get in before your body really sets into the pain, you have a much better chance of heading it off and avoiding the worst effects the injury has to offer.
If you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or book a free consultation anytime. If you’ve had a car accident and are looking for treatment, please book in for a new patient 90 minute appointment so we can assess your situation and we will take it from there! I have excellent Physical Therapists in SW, SE and downtown that I refer to for auto accidents regularly and I would be honored to help coordinate your care.
Until next time,
I am very excited to announce that my husband, Brian Kitzerow, DPT, is now working at Goodell PT in SW Portland and is accepting new patients! We are very excited that he is working in an outpatient setting and that we can share referrals now. I was so excited that I had to blog about it, and I can't wait to see what our collaborations bring for our patients.
With a strong background in biochemistry, a long history of physical activity including soccer, track & field and martial arts, he has the education and experience to excel in his work and I can tell you that he does. He has a special interest in chronic and neuropathic pain and is enjoying working with ESD patients in particular - a specialty at Goodell. ESD stands for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inherited connective tissue disorder, so if you know anyone with chronic pain, EDS, neuropathic pain or someone who has been in a car accident lately, please think of sending them his way with Rebecca's double thumbs up.
I also have to share that I believe the combination of Acupuncture and Physical Therapy can be pretty amazing. It can be difficult to commit to so much regular treatment, I understand that (from experience), but if you can commit to the time required to combine therapies, your results will be accelerated and longer lasting.
Acupuncture can straighten out your energetic system, decrease stress and pain, and re-habituate your body to a state of balance. Physical Therapy will balance the body physically, improve strength and flexibility, and give you the tools you need to heal and continue your preferred activity level without incurring new injury. Its a winning combination because the two approaches are just the right amount of different and complementary.
I feel like a personal testament to this powerful combination because while you may not think it to look at me, I've had a lot of injury in my life. I've had tendonitis, bursitis, meniscus frays and tears, ACL tear and knee surgery, piriformis syndrome, dislocations, subluxations, back spasms and a motor vehicle accident. I'm one of those people that dreads filling out new medical forms because there is never enough room for all my injuries on there and because the doctor usually gawks at my list.
This long list, however, means I am very well acquainted with pain and pain treatments experientially and professionally, and I have no problem sharing that my best results have come from combining Acupuncture and Physical Therapy. That is why I am so excited to be able to refer patients to my husband in this setting because I know he is top notch and an excellent physical diagnostician. That is also why I often recommend Physical Therapy - its effective, covered by insurance, and gives YOU tools that you can take home with you and apply to the way you use your body for years to come.
So with this note, please welcome my husband to the world of outpatient clinics, and if you have a physical therapy need or know someone who does think about sending them his way!
Until next time,
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.