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.
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.