How Will An ACL Tear Impact Your Athletic Career?

How Will An ACL Tear Impact Your Athletic Career?

In the past, we often heard the dreaded phrase “career-ending” uttered after athletes suffered ACL injuries. Not anymore!
— Dr. Sterett

Good news: an ACL Tear isn't the end of the world

We used to hear the term "career-ending" applied to some athletes who suffered ACL tears. Well, I'm here to tell you some good news. Although we sometimes hear ACL injuries referred to as "season-ending", in this day and age having the career of an athlete ended by an ACL tear is growing rare. Actually, we are seeing a large number of athletes not only returning to their high levels of performance, but even eclipsing their previous results, post-injury.

Let's take, for instance, the talented athletes on the U.S. Ski team. If there is any focus group that's impacted by ACL injuries, it's certainly these guys and gals. Although it sounds crazy, we regularly witness athletes actually have some of their greatest success after their first major knee injury. There was a time and place where this was unheard of, but modern medicine and advanced techniques are on our side.

Backed By Research

Our friends on the French Alpine Ski Team recently published a study supporting this assertion. The athletes that had torn an ACL during some juncture of their career were the ones who actually achieved a higher level of success.

Longevity Also Increased in Some Athletes

Surprisingly, the study also indicates the same athletes who tore their ACL not only performed better-- they also had longer careers. Some facts to back this statement:

  • According to the study, 23% of the athletes who had torn their ACL achieved a podium finish during their career
  • For comparison, the same study says that only 8% of the French athletes that had never torn their ACL achieved a podium finish during their career
  • Also notable: More than 3 times the amount of podiums were achieved by athletes AFTER the ACL tear than before the ACL tear.

So as we see, the data demonstrates clearly that an athlete retiring from an ACL injury can not only return to their highest levels of performance, but actually exceed them.

Common Questions and Answers

As mentioned in previous articles, the timing of your return to sports has to do primarily with the issue of rehabilitation, and partly to do with “mother nature.”

Will I experience a high level of pain from my ACL Injury during my recovery?

No. Pain is rarely an issue when it comes to rehabilitation, now that we have minimally invasive techniques to reconstruct the ACL. 

What else will effect the timing of my return from ACL surgery?

As mentioned in previous articles, the timing of your return to sports has to do primarily with the issue of rehabilitation, and partly to do with “mother nature.”

Meaning: we must be patient with the ACL during the “remodel” phase, during which the ligament regains the strength to accept the loads which are required to play your sport.

Will ACL Injuries Always Be Considered “Season-Ending?"

 I believe the that our biologic enhancement of healing will improve with the advancement growth factors, PRP and nutrition, and stem cells. As this happens, the time to return to sports after ACL injury will continue to decrease. But for the time being, expect to hear the phrase “season-ending surgery” when an athlete undergoes an ACL injury.

What’s the average timeline for returning from ACL surgery?

A: It really all depends on the individual athletes. Realistically, it may take the ACL up to a year to remodel and return to full strength. However, we often see athletes returning to sports post-rehab as soon as six to nine months. Not bad, but we are always striving to make advances.

It may take the new ACL a full year to remodel currently and get as strong as it is going to, yet we often allow athletes back to sports at 6-9 months once their rehabilitation is complete.  Hopefully we can feel more confident doing this going forward.

Keep Doing the Sports You Love

In closing, I want to stress again that for an athlete facing rehabilitation from an ACL tears, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to return to your previous level of performance— or better! 


The Extreme "Consequence" Athlete and Shoulder Dislocation Injuries

The Extreme "Consequence" Athlete and Shoulder Dislocation Injuries

3 Top NBA Players Who Have Returned From Major Knee Injuries

3 Top NBA Players Who Have Returned From Major Knee Injuries