ACL injuries are one of the most common issues that keep athletes and active people on the sidelines and away from the sports they love. In fact, ACL tears affect between 100,000 and 200,000 of us every year in the United States.
The ACL can be tricky to repair – even beyond the initial trauma. If an ACL injury isn’t treated properly and completely, it can lead to weakness, lack of mobility, and future knee injuries down the line.
Thankfully, acupuncture provides fast and effective recovery and rehabilitation from ACL injuries. Read on to find out how acupuncture can help you recover from ACL injury and get back in the game.
What is the ACL?
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a tough band of tissue in the knee that joins the thigh bone to the shin bone. This ligament runs diagonally through the knee, towards the interior, to stabilize the knee joint. Because of the ACL joint, we are able to control the front-to-back movement of the lower leg with precision.
In most cases, a severe ACL injury will cause a popping noise and your knee will “go out.” You will experience pain and swelling, especially when moving the knee. If the injury is severe enough, or if other structures in the knee have been damaged, you may not be able to walk.
Depending on the type of sport you play, or the type of workout you do, you may notice slightly different symptoms.
Types of ACL Injuries
ACL injuries range from mild sprains to full tears. And unfortunately, at least half of all ACL injuries also involve an injury to other structures in the knee (such as the cartilage, meniscus, or other ligaments).
- Grade 1 Sprains: Mild damage. The knee can still stretch but feels unstable.
- Grade 2 Sprains: Moderate damage. The ligament is loose and may have a partial tear.
- Grade 3 Sprains: Severe damage. There is a complete tear in the ligament, tearing it in half or off the bone. The knee joint is entirely unstable. Unfortunately, because the ACL is such a vulnerable ligament, most injuries are complete, or Grade 3, tears.
ACL Injuries in Athletes
Whether you are a professional athlete or simply enjoy working out, you could be at risk of developing an ACL injury. The ACL is one of the most commonly injured or torn ligaments
So, what causes ACL injuries? Typically, sports that involve jumping, pivoting, or sudden stopping are at the highest risk of ACL tears – think soccer, basketball, MMA, football, tennis, rugby, and skiing. But in reality, any sport or athletic activity that uses the lower legs could lead to an injury. Here’s how ACL tears usually happen:
- landing incorrectly from a jump
- stopping suddenly
- sudden pivoting, cutting, or turning
- having a collision, such as during a tackle
- twisting of the leg and knee
- over-extension of the lower leg
How Are ACL Injuries Treated?
After an ACL injury, it’s necessary to see a doctor and have an examination. From there, you have two different possible approaches to treatment:
The Western Medicine Approach
A Western medical doctor will conduct imaging tests to determine the severity of your injury. Rest and a break from your sport or workout routine is likely necessary to allow the body to recover. In many cases, surgery is recommended to repair the tear and stabilize the knee joint so you can return to your sport or workout activities. Certain knee exercises or physical therapy may be suggested to regain your range of motion and stability in the knee.
The Oriental Medicine Approach
Oriental medicine is a safe and effective way to support your knee while it heals – whether you choose to have surgery or not. If you do choose to have reconstructive surgery, acupuncture and other therapies can support your knee pre- and post-op so you can return to your workouts as soon as possible. If you decide not to get surgery, acupuncture can significantly speed up the healing process and help you prevent future injuries to the ligament and knee joint.
As with the Western approach, an Oriental medicine practitioner will also conduct a thorough examination of the knee, as well as other related joints and structures. Along with understanding the injury, an acupuncturist will also ask a wide range of questions to get a clear idea of your overall state of health.
Then, you’ll start an individualized treatment plan to address your symptoms and support the proper healing of the ACL. This may involve acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, topical products, therapeutic exercises, and more.
For the best results with acupuncture, Dr. Ko recommends coming as soon as possible after you are injured. Within 15 days is best, as this is considered the “golden time” for total healing. In general, “Treatment will take about a month and I recommend patients to come every day.”
Acupuncture for ACL Injuries: How Does it Work?
Most people want to recover from an ACL injury and return to their active lifestyles as soon as possible. Thankfully, acupuncture is one of the best natural therapies you can use to speed your recovery, enhance healing, and promote overall joint health. Beyond helping to reconnect the cruciate ligament, here’s how acupuncture helps:
Acupuncture reduces inflammation.
Inflammation is necessary to start the healing process immediately after an injury. But as time goes on, lingering inflammation and swelling slow healing and cause higher pain levels. Acupuncture has been proven to significantly reduce this harmful inflammation so the ligament and other tissues in the knee joint can complete the healing process faster.
Acupuncture alleviates knee pain.
Acupuncture can help reduce or eliminate pain in both acute and chronic ACL injuries. Studies show that acupuncture helps relieve pain in a few different ways. One, it reduces pain-causing inflammation as we discussed above. Two, acupuncture causes the body to release natural painkilling endorphins. Finally, acupuncture stimulates healthy blood flow through an injured area. As the Oriental medicine saying goes, when there is free flow, there is no pain.
Acupuncture improves post-op recovery and rehabilitation.
Both acupuncture has been found to be successful therapies for improving outcomes after ACL reconstructive surgeries. In fact, Dr. Ko explains that “acupuncture treatment is better than surgery.”
But if you do choose surgery, acupuncture can improve your outcome. After surgery, the knee is extremely vulnerable. Acupuncture helps support a fast and complete recovery by promoting healing blood flow and reducing swelling, bruising, and inflammation. Acupuncture also stimulates the muscles and nerves in the surrounding area to re-activate the knee and the entire lower leg.
Aside from healing the tissues involved in ACL recovery, acupuncture also helps with postoperative pain management and stress. With acupuncture and herbal medicine as part of your post-op plan, you can expect to have a faster recovery and more successful rehabilitation.
Acupuncture supports the entire lower extremity.
While some rehabilitation therapies focus only on relieving knee pain or promoting the function of the knee joint, acupuncture takes a wider approach. Along with supporting ACL healing, acupuncture also ensures the healthy function of the entire knee joint, the muscles of the upper and lower leg, and the function of the body as a whole. This leads to more comprehensive healing and may help prevent future weakness or injuries.
Overcome and Prevent ACL Injuries with Acupuncture
Working out and playing sports helps us live happier, healthier lives. Unfortunately, no activity is without risk. When accidents happen, acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help.
Dr. Ko has been helping people in Studio City, Los Angeles and beyond heal from injuries like ACL tears for over 15 years. Book your appointment here, or call us at 1-818-980-7979 to get started on your path to healing today.