Alexis Appelquist, Huffines Producer
One moment you’re sprinting down the basketball court. You stop sharply, left leg planted, and spin around, ready to be on the defense. Before you even know what has happened, you’re on the ground, clutching your knee in shock, unable to describe the sensation but acutely aware of the sinking feeling that something is wrong. Maybe you collided with an opponent, maybe you heard a loud pop, maybe your entire professional career is on the line or maybe your eleven-year-old son and his YMCA team are standing by. Whatever the mechanism or circumstance, eventually the conclusion is reached that you have a torn ACL.
The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the main stabilizing ligaments of the knee joint. Sustaining an injury nearly always results in a complete tear, requiring reconstructive surgery if the reacquisition of full use is desired. Recently, a new method of reconstructive surgery has been introduced, known as Bridge Enhanced ACL Repair, or BEAR, which involves suturing together the frayed ends of the torn ligament.
Outcomes from trial procedures conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital have thus far yielded positive results. Of the ten patients receiving the new procedure, all ten had regrown healthy and stable ACL’s where the once torn structure previously existed. The procedure has also been studied using pig knees, wherein the subjects treated with BEAR demonstrated a lower incidence of arthritis. Practitioners hope that this new approach will reduce recovery time from the normally expected six to nine months postoperative. Traditional reconstructive methods require the use of a graft, normally taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body, with common sites being the hamstring or patellar tendon. Holes are drilled in the bones on either side of the knee joint and the graft is inserted then secured with screws. By eliminating the need for a graft, recovery for a second body location is also eliminated.
The new procedure works through the use of stitches and a sponge infused with the patient’s own blood. Once situated between the frayed ends of the torn ACL, proteins in the sponge promote the healing process, and the ACL grows together, reconnecting. Just as with traditional ACL repairs, therapy is needed to return to full range of motion and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Sustaining a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament results in a painful and lengthy recovery process. This injury is extremely common, with nearly 400,000 cases reported yearly. From recreational to high school to college or professional, ACL tears can affect all levels of play. Though it is still in it’s early phases of testing, Bridge Enhanced Anterior Cruciate Ligament Repair surgery has the potential to return all athletes to play quicker and stronger than ever before.