Knee injuries no longer mean end of athletic career

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2001

Sports Editor

It usually happens with a simple "pop".

But that "pop" is the sound of the anterior cruciate ligament tearing away from the inside of the knee. Following that comes swelling, pain and instability. For the professional or collegiate athlete then comes surgery, followed by rehabilitation and maybe even feelings of depression. Active adults may also option for surgery, but it could be over a year before they’re able to play comfortably without the fear of reinjury.

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The ACL is located on the inside of the knee, just below the knee cap, and acts as a tether, or rein, to prevent the tibia from sliding over the femur. ACL tears usually result from the hyperextension of the knee while playing a sport that requires sudden changes of direction, such as football, basketball and soccer.

But playing sports is not the only way a person can injure the ACL.

"An ACL tear," said TSU Athletic Training Program Director John "Doc" Anderson, " is something that can happen to anyone, whether they’re playing sports or just walking down the street. It doesn’t even require contact. An athlete can be running down the field, attempt to plant his foot and the knee will go out on him."

A slight tear usually can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, wraps, elevation and ice followed by an exercise regiment to strengthen the leg muscles.

For most athletes with a full break in the ligament, however, surgery is usually a requirement if they wish to resume a sport-related activity.

Both Rayshun Reed and Derrick Ansley, TSU defensive backs, each underwent surgery during the offseason to repair their ACLs. Both players now appear to be completely recovered and seem to have overcome the "mental roadblock" following their respective injuries. In some cases an athlete is unable to deal with the emotional toll the injury places on his body, which can lead to feelings of vulnerability and the possible loss of a professional career.

"With any severe injury there’s going to be a moment of shock," said Anderson. "Then there’s going to be a period of rejection, when he or she thinks, ‘this didn’t happen to me.’ Then comes the depression stage."

The depression stage is when the athlete needs the support of everyone involved in his or her rehabilitation process.

Ansley said his teammates got behind him and motivated him to work through his injury and he was also able to look at several of today’s NFL players for added encouragement.

"A lot of NFL players have had this happen to them," Ansley said. "An ACL injury is not the end of the world."

Ansley points out Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis for example. Lewis suffered a knee injury as a sophomore at Tennessee, but bounced back a year later to become the fifth pick overall in the 2000 NFL draft. As a rookie, Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns for the Super Bowl Champion Ravens.

Reed has also put his knee injury behind him.

"It bothers me sometimes just a little bit," he said. "But once game time or practice comes around, I really don’t think about it because of the adrenaline rush."