Back in the game after ACL injury
Chicago Bulls fans rejoiced as they saw Derrick Rose step on the court at the beginning of the season. He was making layups, hitting jump shots and slam dunking again after a lengthy recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Most athletes return to sports within six months following ACL reconstruction surgery, but experts say recovery time varies greatly.
“Every athlete is different,” says Steven Chudik, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “This is why it is important to treat each ACL injury individually—from surgery and rehabilitation to the decision to return to play.”
While recovery times differ significantly, the way in which athletes tear their ACL is just as unpredictable, he says. Tears can come from a direct hit to the knee but, many times, a quick stop or sharp cut that athletes perform hundreds of times during a game can send them to the sidelines for many months, Dr. Chudik says.
The process of getting back on the court or field is not an easy one for any athlete and involves months of physical therapy. According to Dr. Chudik, one of the most important things athletes can do during recovery is to be patient and listen to the instructions of their doctor and physical therapist.
“Most athletes have the work ethic to complete rehabilitation, but they may push themselves too hard trying to recover too soon,” he says. “This can cause setbacks and flare-ups that actually delay their return.”
Knowing when one is ready to play again depends on the sport in which the athlete competes. Sports involving cutting, jumping and landing such as basketball and soccer require more rehabilitation time compared to sports like cycling or swimming, he says.
To help athletes know when to return to play, Dr. Chudik uses his return-to-play program that uses quantitative and qualitative challenges, and measures when it is safe for an athlete to return to their sport.
“Although returning to play may be an athlete’s primary goal, making sure they do not re-injure themselves in the future is just as important,” he says.
To help make this possible, Dr. Chudik works with athletes to teach them to learn how to run, jump and cut in ways that decrease their risk for re-injury.
No one knows how Derrick Rose will perform this season, but the general success of ACL reconstruction surgery and his careful return to play should give Chicagoans hope that his knee will be strong enough to lead the Bulls to another successful season.
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