I had just begun my career as a professional dancer and for some reason thought it a good idea to take a quick weekend ski trip before commencing rehearsals on my next contract – I haven’t been back since!
ACL damage is most common in high demand sports such as football, rugby, netball, tennis, skiing and gymnastics. Most daily activities can be performed without a normal ACL, but sports such as these prove a lot more difficult.
ACL damage usually occurs without force or contact with another person, simply from changing directions, decelerating suddenly or landing from a jump, however a sideways tackle in football can also cause this same injury. It is common to hear or feel a “pop” in the knee, (such was the case with me, I remember as I went down off my ski’s I grabbed my knees as they twisted in opposite directions feeling a distinct “pop” under both hands as my bindings didn’t release, my knees gave way and I fell down hard!) I remember after I managed to make my way home from the snow and went to see a physio he called his college in to have a look also, he was quite impressed that I had managed to rupture ACL’s in BOTH knees, he had never seen that before. I literally didn’t have a good leg to stand on. If you’re going to do something, you may as well go all the way!
Well, depending on what activities you wish to return to it may be enough simply to strengthen and manage the injury without surgery. Once the swelling goes down you can start to work on regaining mobility and then building strength in the surrounding muscles such as quadriceps (particularly VMO), hamstrings, calf muscles, gluteals and deep stabilisers. However, if you wish to return to sport, it will probably be necessary to have a reconstruction.
Post surgery rehabilitation, how long does it take?
Well, how long is a piece of string?
It depends on the effort and work you put in. I found a surgeon who was happy to do both knee reconstructions at the same time, instead of doing one, rehabbing for 6 months and then doing the other. As a dancer your career is short enough without taking a year off!
So off I went under the knife and later that evening I was able to hobble around on crutches and be signed out of hospital. Then began the hard work, I wanted to be back on my feet ASAP so I was doing three sessions per day most days, these included physio, swimming (or just walking through water to begin with) Pilates and home exercises. The progress was slow and it seemed to take forever for full range of movement to return – and I was working on it fulltime! But I am proud to say within 6 months I was back on my feet and rehearsing for my next gig!
Pilates played a major role in my rehabilitation and getting me back to a point where I was confident my knees weren’t going to give way on me. Looking back, I think it was almost nice that I injured both sides, it meant as I worked I never compared the ‘good leg’ and the ‘bad leg’, I worked hard on both and come out stronger and more balanced in the end. (Although I would never recommend as a holiday activity to go out and bust both ACL’s!)
The use of the Pilates equipment really helped me tap into those muscles that needed to be strong to keep me dancing for years to come. Under some brilliant guidance we came up with some non-traditional exercises that focussed on hamstring and VMO strength utilising the springs and working against resistance to help regain full range of motion and stabilise what had recently fallen apart. I felt stronger and better than ever, but I worked HARD!
In recent years as a Pilates instructor, I have really enjoyed working with clients and sports professionals to get them back on their feet post-surgery, not just dealing with knee reconstructions but disc surgery, knee replacements, hip replacements and much more. I love that everyone’s rehabilitation journey is different. Our bodies respond in their own ways but each time it really is a reflection of the time you take and effort you put in, these things won’t fix themselves, we need to do the hard work to see the improvements!
For more information on injuries, rehabilitation exercises or general Pilates related questions, please reach out, I am more than happy to help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org