Supporting an Athlete with an ACL Injury
Injury can be devastating for an athlete not only due to the physical pain experienced but also due to the mental side of being unable to play. All injuries are tough to endure but tearing your ACL and having it reconstructed requires a pretty long road to full recovery. There are approximately 250,000-300,000 ACL-related injuries every year. Return to playing a sport after an ACL reconstruction surgery typically takes around 6-12 months depending on the surgeon’s protocol, the patient’s progress, and the type of activity or sport in which they are returning. Because this process is longer than most types of injuries, it is important that the support system for the injured athlete is understanding and encouraging. Many athletes dealing with an ACL injury will tell you the hardest part of their injury is overcoming the mental aspect of things.
To Coaches: Continue to allow the athlete to participate in team functions. Have them continue to wear their uniform during games even if they are not able to play. Encourage them to attend practice and be aware of what restrictions the athlete has with regards to their injury (check with the athlete’s physical therapist, athletic trainer, or surgeon) so you can try to maximize their participation in practice, even if it is limited greatly.
To Parents: Do not try to pressure your child to return sooner than they are should! Remember that allowing for appropriate healing time along with respecting the directions/restrictions a surgeon, physical therapist, or athletic trainer places on the athlete will optimize their outcome and provide a safe return back into the game. An ACL reconstruction is a big surgery and it takes time for proper graft implementation to occur! It’s not like a fracture that should heal in 4-8 weeks. The new tissue that the surgeon uses to replace the ACL needs time to develop stability, strength, and a sound blood supply. Your child only gets one body to use in their lifetime so give them the time to allow for the proper progression through rehabilitation in order to decrease the risk for future pain and injury as they move through life.
To Teammates: Put yourself in your teammate’s shoes and think about how it might feel to have to sit out of the sport you love…especially for 6-12 months! That’s for sure at least most or all of a sports season! Continue to include the injured teammate in on team functions, ask them how they are doing, and if you miss playing with your injured teammate, let them know! Peers can have a major influence on the mental healing of an injury which can assist with the progression of rehab.
Contributors to this blog: Katie Reisbig Cordery, PT, DPT