Let’s face it. Injuries suck. Spending time on the sideline when you want nothing else than to be on the pitch playing your friends really is a terrible feeling. I am still to decide whether watching ultimate is keeping me eager about playing or is slowly destroying me inside knowing that it will be over a year until I get to participate in a competitive game. It is a waiting game, but you can’t take time off because of it: you have to work harder than ever so as to recover properly and not draw out the length of time you’re stuck on the sideline for.
The recovery process is also a lonely one, and I am sure there are many hours ahead of me training away from the team, with the aim of trying to get myself back to competition fitness before I can contemplate getting back into the game. In a sense, writing this blog is a chance to connect with both my teammates and other people in a similar position. I have read a few blogs from people who had suffered from an ACL injury and reading about how they recovered really helps me see the long term rehabilitation. A few of them comment on how they started writing their blog so that they could compare their recovery to that of others, and I guess this is probably the main reason why I’m writing this.
So. I guess I should start with how I was injured.
We had come out of our pool at Uni Indoor Nationals, which we believed to very much be the ‘pool of death’, with 3 wins from 3, 2 of which came in sudden death points. We had moved into the power pools with our 1st seed and faced another difficult game against an old foe that we have played a lot over the last few years, often in close games that we were victorious in. I felt the game had begun in a bad way: early on one of their players had failed to get a block on high disc to me, but had managed to scrape his studs down my ankle next to my Achilles – this is something that is actually still painful now, 8 weeks after happening. There were calls, as there had always been between us, and we had fallen behind after taking an early lead. We had just gathered the momentum and I made a lateral cut (I cannot remember whether it was to the open or break side). There was a poach coming out the end zone and my defender was trailing me by a couple of yards. A sort of pop pass scuba was put into the space ahead of me and I got up early and took it down well away from where any of the defenders could ever hope to reach it. As I was landing one of the defenders managed to land on top of me, putting a lot more weight on to my leg than I was expecting. The extra force caused my leg to buckle. I remember feeling a sort of pop in my knee. The next thing I remember was being in agony on the floor with a lot of people around me – it’s not that I passed out, but I think my brain has decided to black out any memory I may have had of the immediate aftermath. I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t know how much trouble. I could feel that my knee was causing me a lot of pain and after being asked by the TD, I thought it would be best to get an ambulance to the hospital so I could get my knee checked out.
It was the first time I had ever ridden in an ambulance and I will be very happy if it is also the last time I ever have to ride in one as well. After a lot of waiting around at the hospital (and a lot of having to explain to the paramedics what Ultimate Frisbee is) I was eventually seen and left the hospital on crutches with my knee in a brace and a copy of my x-rays to hand – not that anyone had really worked out what they meant. I might have a meniscal tear, I might have fractured my shin, I might have dislocated my knee. The staff at the hospital weren’t entirely sure. I eventually managed to get a referral to go see a knee specialist in Havant and after an MRI scan he was able to diagnose exactly what I had done. I think his first words to me were along the line of: “Yes, you certainly have damaged your knee”. Always reassuring to hear.
Every injury is different. Even if the recovery is the same, the initial treatment may be different. It is exactly the same for ACL injuries. The most common is when the ACL ligament simply snaps in half. This is known simply as an ACL tear. Occasionally the ligament is strong enough that the tension causes the ACL to rip from the bone which it is attached to, usually the femur (thigh bone for those not knowing). This is known as an ACL avulsion. My ACL ripped from the tibia (shin bone) which I was told occurred in less than 20% of patients who suffer from an ACL avulsion. It had also taken a chunk of the bone with it, hence why there were fractures visible in my x-ray.
As I said, every injury is different, and again this rings true about mine. As well as suffering from an ACL avulsion, I had also suffered a lot of damage to the rest of my knee resulting in meniscus tears (which is the cartilage in the knee) and slight strains in my lateral collateral ligament.
Treatment is again all so similar yet is different from one person to the next. Before I could have surgery I had to reduce the swelling around my knee. I was instructed to go to a physio where I was attached to some electrode stimulators which helped fire my quads so that blood could pump more freely from my knee. I also had some ultrasound on my knee to help reduce any scar tissue that was forming.
Surgically, the most common procedure for younger adults is to ‘reconstruct’ the knee by replacing the ACL with a similar tendon or ligament and pinning it into place by threading the replacement ligament through drilled holes in the femur and tibia. This can be done with a part of your hamstring, a patella graft or even a tendon from your foot.
I had kept my knee elevated and supported in a brace in the 6 weeks from my injury up to the surgery, and when it came to the operation, the surgeon decided that he was not going to reconstruct my knee. This is because the bones had started to fuse back together as I had kept my leg straight in the support.
That was the surgery done with, but the physio was to start almost immediately.