ACL Injuries and the NFL Football Player

ACL INJURY IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS

ACL ruptures are usually followed by reconstruction surgery that is then followed by progressive rehabilitation that may last up to 12 months. In the NFL, there is an average of 53 ACL injuries per year.  Depending on the extent of injury to these athletes, most players can expect 6-12 months before being cleared by a physician to return to their previous level of play.

 

ACL DEFINITION

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments that connect the bones of the knee joint. The ACL ligament helps to hold the bones in proper alignment and help control the way your knee moves. ACL ligament injuries are common in contact sports and those involving a sudden change of direction. Often an ACL injury will occur in combination with injury to other structures in the knee joint and require immediate first aid.

 

What causes a torn ACL?

A torn ACL can be grouped into two categories: contact and non-contact. An example of non contact injuries would be when an athlete rapidly decelerates, followed by a sharp or sudden change in direction (cutting). Noncontact torn ACL injuries have also been linked to heavy or stiff-legged landing as well as twisting or turning the knee while landing, especially when the knee is in the valgus (knock-knee) position. Contact injuries most common occur after a blow to the outside of the leg causing the knee to “buckle” and assume a valgus position.

 

How is a torn ACL classified?

Most clinicians describe a torn ACL as either partial or complete. This is based on physical examination and imaging findings (discussed later).

 

ACL TREATMENT OPTIONS

Factors affecting treatment are time of season, duration of playing career (amateur or professional), player age if skeletally immature, prior surgeryACL Recovery Time.  Depending on the extent of injury to these athletes, most players can expect 6-12 months before being cleared by a physician to return to their previous level of play.

 

Performance After ACL Injury

NFL players who sustain an injury to their ACL do typically return to play again in the NFL, however a research study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine has shown that most athletes return with diminished performance on the field.

 

NFL Injury Surveillance Data, ACL Injuries by Position

High-performance RBs and WRs are more likely to be injured because they compete in more plays per game, carry the ball longer on each play, and attract more defensive attention.  The same qualities of RBs and WRs that contribute to high performance — instantaneous decelerations as well as explosive pivoting and cutting maneuvers — may increase the risk for ACL injury.

NFL ACL Injuries Surveilance data

 

ACL Return to Play Study:

Sixty-three percent (31 of 49) of NFL athletes returned to NFL game play at an average of 10.8 months after surgery. Age at time of surgery, position, and the type and number of procedures were not significantly different between those who did and did not return to play.

Source: “Return to play after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction in National Football League athletes” by Shah et al. [Am J Sports Med. 2011]

 

For more detailed information on ACL Injuries, please visit Torn ACL Injuries.

 

References

  • A randomized controlled trial to prevent noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injury in female collegiate soccer players. Gilchrist J, Mandelbaum BR, Melancon H, Ryan GW, Silvers HJ, Griffin LY, Watanabe DS, Dick RW, Dvorak J. Am J Sports Med. 2008 Aug;36(8):1476-83.
  • Robin V. West and Christopher D. Harner Graft Selection in Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., May/June 2005; 13: 197 – 207.
  • Treatment of anterior cruciate ligament injuries, part I. Beynnon BD, Johnson RJ, Abate JA, Fleming BC, Nichols CE. Am J Sports Med. 2005 Oct;33(10):1579-602 Treatment of anterior cruciate ligament injuries, part 2. Beynnon BD, Johnson RJ, Abate JA, Fleming BC, Nichols CE. Am J Sports Med. 2005 Nov;33(11):1751-67
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