Sports Injuries Trends: A New (Old) Approach
At one point or another, most of us have experienced a strain, pull or even a tear. If you’re active and play any kind of sports, getting injured is always a possibility, but whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament which supports the joint (ACL) can be one of the most feared and debilitating injuries due to its career-ending reputation.
An estimated 200,000 ACL injuries occur each year, making it one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), The risk of ACL injury is even higher for athletes participating in high-risk, contact sports such as football, soccer, basketball and skiing.
Few are more familiar with this injury than Dr. Steven Singleton, a Texas Health Physicians Group orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Orthopedic Specialists and a physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Southwest Fort Worth.
Singleton says ACL injuries are one of the more common injuries he sees in his group’s practice. And in recent months, his team has started to take a second look at the best way to repair these types of injuries.
Traditionally, ACL treatment has involved reconstruction surgery, which requires the torn ligament to be removed and replaced with a tendon graft. The graft usually requires a tendon to be harvested from somewhere else in the body and is then secured in the knee in place of the native ACL. Recovery can often take anywhere from six to nine months.
While effective, Singleton says reconstructive surgery there can often be scar tissue, muscle atrophy and changes in an athlete’s perception of their knee function. Because of this, the joint needs more time to heal, prolonging recovery time and return to play.
ACL repair is an older approach that fuses the original ligament by threading high-strength stitches through the torn part of the ACL. Tension is applied to the stitches and ligament. The ACL is then secured back into position using one or two small, non-metallic anchors in the exact location where the ACL naturally attaches. as Additional surgical technique creates an internal brace while the ligament heals.
“What’s new is actually now going back to the old way of doing things.”
Combining newer surgical techniques and equipment with an alternative approach known as ACL repair, Dr. Singleton has been able to reduce his patients’ recovery time.
Singleton points out that the procedure is not for everyone.
“ACL repair is ideal to help weekend warriors and recreational athletes return to an active lifestyle quicker,” says Singleton. “Athletes returning to high-level contact sports should speak at length with their physician to determine the best option.”
One of the other advances Singleton says has improved care for orthopedic patients is the arthroscope, a small camera that is inserted through a relatively small incision to view the inside of the body versus making a large, open cut.
There are also a number of suturing devices that allow physicians to perform repairs in a minimally-invasive way. And all of these advance are capped off with changes in how physicians treat the injury in rehab.
“We have much better rehabilitation techniques, whereas in the 1970s you got a cast, now we move the knee and we move it appropriately so that the ACL can heal without too much stress, and that motion helps the cartilage and ligament to heal better,” Singleton adds.
Every patient is different, Singleton adds, but by combining new technology advances with time-tested techniques, Texas Health physicians are now offering, the immediate answer to “Do I need ACL surgery?” doesn’t have to be “yes” anymore.
It’s this innovative way of thinking that allows Texas Health to stand at the forefront of shaping and transforming health care and medicine to provide a better future for our community.
Dr. Singleton recently was featured on a Texas Health Out Loud podcast on trends in sports injuries.
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