ACL repair is a common procedure that aims to treat anterior cruciate ligament injuries, often in younger patients. ACL injuries are particularly prevalent in young athletes, with many opting for surgery to return to play at their previous level.
We previously published an article on the long-term success rates of ACL reconstruction and covered the potential risk of developing Osteoarthritis after an ACL repair. Here we evaluate some more recent studies and whether the risk of Osteoarthritis can be avoided.
What do studies have to say?
There has been some research into the risk of Osteoarthritis after an ACL repair. One of the most significant findings is that around 50% of patients who undergo an ACL repair go on to develop Osteoarthritis within 12 to 14 years.
While this is a worrying statistic, there are things that can be done to treat and prevent the condition early.
What is an ACL repair?
An ACL repair typically involves removing the torn ligament and replacing it with a healthy tendon from another area of the leg. The patellar tendon and hamstring are commonly used in this procedure, and they are grafted onto the ligament.
There are several risks associated with the procedure. In some cases, patients may not experience the same level of strength in the knee as they did prior to the injury. However, in around 80% of cases, patients do experience a full restoration of the function of the knee.
Can the risk of Osteoarthritis be decreased?
Although the risk of Osteoarthritis after ACL repair surgery is quite high, there are things that can be done to prevent it. For example, physical therapy has shown to be highly effective at helping to prevent Osteoarthritis later in life. Carrying out low-impact exercises strengthens the joint without causing wear and tear.
Patients can also take measures to avoid re-injuring the joint. According to research, approximately 30% of patients who return to level 1 sport experience a reinjury. If an additional ACL tear occurs, this will increase the risk of Osteoarthritis even further.
Injuring the ACL can lead to the development of knee arthritis, regardless of whether the patient undergoes ACL reconstruction or opts for non-surgical treatment. Evidence suggests that surgical ACL repair can delay the onset and it also can reduce secondary injury to the meniscus and cartilage.