Three years ago I experienced what it’s like to rupture an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and my left knee required a full reconstruction as a result of a netball injury. The rehabilitation back to playing was a long, drawn out and frustrating process. But after 12 months off I managed to get back to playing the sport I loved so much. I had a full season virtually pain free and was over the moon! I was ready to continue playing for as long as I could. However, fate wouldn’t allow that… The risk of injuring either the same or opposite ACL within the first 2 years post-surgery is 6 times greater for people with a knee reconstruction (Source: American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine) and its even higher for women compared to men. Unfortunately this year I became part of this statistic and the timing was devastating, on and off the court!
Another netball match would lead me into becoming another statistic and being utterly devastated. It was the second last round of the 2014 home and away season and it was just like any other game day, except maybe a bit sunnier which is surprising for Ballarat! It was early in the 3rd quarter and I dodged and twisted on my right leg, much like I had done millions of times before, there was a very loud “pop” and the feeling of pain was instant. I let out a scream and landed on the court grabbing my knee knowing exactly what had happened and the memories of my past knee reconstruction came flooding back. The pain was extreme for the next few minutes, but after calming down, I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad… Oh how I was wrong! Off to hospital I went for an x-ray and the results came back normal. But due to still being unable to weight bear on my right leg I was given a referral for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This scan would be able to show how much damage I had actually done to the ligaments. Frustratingly, there was a wait of 2 days for the MRI.
In the mean time I had to make a phone call that I was dreading. Two weeks earlier I had started my new job here at Rebalance Myotherapy and was loving every minute of it. But I knew with this injury that working would be impossible for at least a week and if not longer. The thought of losing my job had crossed my mind briefly, I called Monica with the unexpected bad news. After making sure I was ok, we arranged that I would have the week off. There was no pressure to return before I was fully fit so the results from the MRI would determine the date I would return to work.
Due to my minimal swelling and lack of pain on viewing my MRI results I was in complete shock. It showed I had a fully ruptured right ACL, a grade 3 tear in the MCL (medial collateral ligament), a torn lateral meniscus (cartilage inside my knee), the bone was compressed in the femur and a torn popliteus muscle behind my knee. I was absolutely devastated!
The next step was to contact my surgeon and arrange for my second knee reconstruction. His advice was to wear a hinged knee brace locked between 30-90 degrees of knee flexion. Doing this allows the MCL to partially heal prior to having surgery. With this brace I was able to start moderately weight bearing through the leg again. Feeling still relatively pain free (this can occur with complete ruptures due to all of the nerve fibres being torn), I managed the swelling with ice and NSAIDs. By the end of the first week I was fully weight bearing and also walking reasonably normally which enabled me to return to work. I was happy to be back that’s for sure!
Eight weeks after the original injury I returned to the surgeon for a review and hopefully book a date to have surgery. The advice given was that I was able to go without the brace and will be having my surgery in early 2015. Until then my job is to “prehab” the whole leg, which involves building up the strength I have lost in my calves, quads and hamstrings. There is also the tough decision on what type of graft would suit me. My options are either a hamstring graft, where they take part of my hamstring tendons, sew them together and insert that where my ACL was or have the artificial LARS implant. Both have pros and cons and neither are completely fool proof. You just need to look at the AFL footballer Daniel Menzal who at 23 years old has already had four reconstructions including both the LARS and hamstring grafts. He will be making his comeback with Geelong Cats in 2015. What a long road to recover he has experienced.
At this stage unfortunately I won’t be looking to play netball again. Which is really sad, to retire at a ripe old age of 25. My focus right now is on my strength training and looking forward to finally having the reconstruction. With a bit of luck, in 2015, I will be able to regain full strength and range with my knee, with the long term goal of even completing my first ever fun run.