By Emma Reid – physiotherapist

ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries are common in athletes, especially those who play sports that involve sudden stops and changes in direction, such as football, basketball, and soccer. Traditionally, surgical reconstruction has been the primary treatment for ACL injuries, but emerging evidence suggests that non-surgical approaches may be just as effective, including for athletes who want to return to sport.

Non-surgical approach to ACL injuries includes:

  • Physiotherapy: early stages mainly focus on restoring proper knee range of movement and reducing pain. As rehab progresses the focus quickly shifts to improving muscle strength and joint stability to build the support around the knee joint, return to normal activity and reduce the risk of re-injury.
  • Bracing: can provide additional support to the knee joint and reduce the risk of injury during physical activity.
  • Activity modification: involves avoiding activities that place excessive stress on the knee joint, such as jumping and pivoting, for a period to allow the ACL time to recover. Activity is then slowly re-introduced as appropriate.

Recent studies published in both the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, have shown that non-surgical approaches can be just as effective as surgery for ACL injuries, especially for athletes who don’t require the full stability of a reconstructed ligament. The studies found that those who underwent bracing, physical therapy and activity modification had similar outcomes who underwent surgery with no significant differences in knee function, strength or stability.

Rehab can often be started immediately after injury when clients go the conservative route, whereas surgery can require surgery wait times and a period of recovery immediately post-surgery before exercise rehab can begin.

Avoiding surgery also means avoiding the risks associated with it, including:

  • Infections
  • Blood clots
  • Anaesthesia complications
  • Later repercussions such as early onset knee arthritis

It’s important to note that not all ACL injuries are the same, and some may require surgical reconstruction for optimal outcomes. Athletes who have multiple ligament injuries, meniscal tears, or significant knee instability may benefit from surgery.

Non-surgical approaches to ACL injuries are becoming a more viable option for athletes who want to return to sport. Physiotherapy, bracing, and activity modification has been shown in cases to be just as effective as surgery, with the added benefits of avoiding surgical risks and allowing for earlier intervention.  Each case is unique, and athletes should work with their healthcare provider to determine the best treatment approach for their individual situation.

If you or someone you know has suffered an ACL injury and would like to discuss potential options for recovery, don’t hesitate to contact the clinic for an assessment and chat with one of our experienced physiotherapists.  Call us on (08) 6389 2947 or click here to book online.

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