Knee injuries are among the most common injuries that can happen to athletes. Given that the knee is a weight-bearing joint that allows for a wide range of physical movements, strong and stable knees are critical for optimal athletic performance.
When an athlete experiences a knee injury, the first question is always, “When can I play again?” For athletes who want to return to the field or court soon, knee surgery may be a safe and effective option.
Let’s take a closer look at knee surgery for athletes – what it can fix, what recovery is generally like, and where an injured athlete can go in North Dakota for exceptional bone and joint treatments.
When is Knee Surgery Needed by Athletes?
Knee surgery is usually not the first line of defense when it comes to treating knee injuries. In many cases, nonsurgical treatments like rest, physical therapy, and medication can help alleviate pain and promote healing.
However, for severe knee injuries, surgery may be necessary, such as in the following situations:
A Torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)
This is a common injury among athletes, particularly those who engage in high-impact sports like football, basketball, and soccer that require pivoting. The ligament can also become torn from a direct blow to the knee.
The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shinbone and is critical in providing stability to the knee joint. A tearing is usually preceded by an audible pop.
A torn ACL may require a ligament reconstruction with a tendon graft from another area of the knee in order to replicate the original ACL and tighten it and restore stability, which is required for an athlete to return to their sport.
Knee Meniscus Tear
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that acts as a cushion and prevents the bones of the knee joint from grinding against one another. When it tears, usually due to forceful twisting or rotating motions, it can cause pain, swelling, loss of stability, and difficulty extending the knee.
For tears on either the outer or inner section of the meniscus, or for knee pain that persists, knee surgery may be recommended. An orthopedic surgeon can either repair the tear or trim the torn meniscus pieces and smooth out the tissue.
Patellar Tendon Tear
A patellar tendon tear often occurs due to a sudden and forceful contraction of the quadriceps muscle while the knee is bent. This can happen during sports activities that involve jumping or landing, or from a direct blow or fall on the knee. This injury can lead to buckling, instability, and difficulty walking.
Most cases of patellar tendon tears require surgery for the reattachment of the patellar tendon to the kneecap, either with sutures or hardware.
Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
This minimally invasive procedure allows orthopedic surgeons to perform a wide range of applications, including the diagnosis and treatment of various knee conditions.
An arthroscope, a small, lighted instrument, allows the doctor to examine the inside of the knee and make repairs for conditions such as:
- Torn meniscus: Removal or repair of a torn meniscus
- Torn ACL: Reconstructing a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
- Inflamed joint tissue: Removing inflamed tissue from the joint
- Damaged articular cartilage: Trimming damaged cartilage
- Loose bone or cartilage fragments: Removing loose fragments
The use of small instruments means the surgeon can make small incisions, making the surgery less invasive. As a result, the athlete can experience less pain and a faster recovery from the procedure.
How Fast is Recovery Like for Knee Surgery?
The timeline for the recovery process for an athlete after arthroscopic knee surgery can vary depending on the individual, the type of injury, the procedure performed, and their commitment to their physical rehabilitation.
According to one study published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 62% of patients who undergo arthroscopic knee surgery experienced no knee-related restrictions after just four weeks post-surgery, and an overwhelming 82% were able to return to light activity after a week. Generally, a quick recovery from knee arthroscopy is common – a six to eight week recovery timeline is generally expected.
Physical therapy is a critical component of recovery from knee surgery. Your physical therapist will develop a program designed to help you regain flexibility, strength, and stability in your knee, as well as provide guidance on when it’s appropriate to increase your level of activity and return to your sport.
Some tips for recovery include the following:
- Elevate the knee above heart level to reduce swelling.
- Apply an ice pack to help reduce pain and swelling.
- Keep the incision area clean.
- Take pain medication as directed by the doctor for a comfortable recovery.
- Activity helps boost circulation and prevents stiffness. Non-weight-bearing exercises such as walking and swimming can help.
- Use devices prescribed by the physical therapist, such as crutches or a walker for assistance.
- Rebuild the quadriceps muscles, hamstrings, and calf muscles to support the knee.
Prioritizing a gradual return to activity will help minimize the risk of re-injury and ensure a more sustainable and successful return to your sport. As you gain confidence and assess your progress, you can gradually ramp up the intensity over time.
Knee Surgery for Athletes in North Dakota
Don’t let a knee injury limit you any longer. The highly skilled orthopedic care team at The Bone & Joint Center can get you back in the game soon, which is why we are trusted by athletes in North Dakota. We provide exceptional care for individuals with active lifestyles and are trained in the latest techniques used in knee surgery.
To schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic knee surgeons, call our office today at (701) 946-7400 / (866) 900-8650 or use our online request form.