An ACL rupture is one of the most dreaded injuries in sport – not only is it painful, the rehab process is long and difficult, and tests the determination of even the most committed patient.
But like with many other types of injury - it is not all doom and gloom...
Thanks to advances in rehabilitation and improvements in surgical techniques, it's not the career-ending injury that sports people once feared. With proper guidance, patience, and a large dose of motivation, it is definitely possible to make a full and complete recovery.
Marie De Place is a perfect example of someone who overcame such a major setback, and is now stronger and fitter than ever. She had her first appointment at the UFIT Clinic in March 2016, after a skiing accident. A year later she has just done her first Olympic distance triathlon. Here she shares with us her road to recovery with senior physio Declan Halpin, and the ups and downs along the way.
Marie’s initial reaction wasn’t what you might expect:
“My first thought was ‘I'd better be skiing again soon as I just bought a nice brand new ski jacket yesterday’ (typical girl thinking I guess). My second thought was "Good news! I will not have to train for that stupid triathlon that my friends convinced me to join". My third thought was "Hey, I will finally experience going down a ski slope in a sleigh pushed by the rescue guys".
She really had no idea at that time that an ACL injury would lead to ten months of rehab before she would be able to ski again! Typical recovery from an ACL rupture can be anywhere between nine and twelve months, depending on the type of repair performed, the fitness of the patient, and how quickly their body responds to the treatment program. It is usually broken down into four phases:
1. Acute Phase - Where the focus is on reducing the pain and swelling and improving range of movement.
2. Activation Phase - Returning the knee to full range of movement, strengthening key muscles such as your hamstrings, developing knee stability with balance exercises, and introducing body weight exercises such as air squats, bear crawls and lunges.
3. Strengthening Phase - Building strength back into the leg to make sure both sides are equally strong. This usually means picking up some weights and doing lots of squats, deadlifts, step-ups, and other lower limb exercises.
4. Power Phase - Your leg can’t just be strong – it needs to be fast and powerful as well! In this phase we get you to hop, jump, skip, and run (in a straight line). This is often when the patient feels like they are really making good progress!
5. Return to Play - The final part of the rehab process is the most fun. Lots of side to side movements, agility runs, ladder work, and jumping around on wobbly surfaces!
So how did Marie find the process?
“Long, for sure. I did not expect it to last for 10 months but, as you get back to an (almost) normal life after a couple of months, the remaining eight months were more like cherries on the cake. Boring? Sometimes, especially when ending up in the same gym every night or so. Thank god, the exercises are not always the same. Fun? Yes, some good laughs, when I was wondering whether "crab walk", "bear crawling" and other weird animals jumps or moves were real physio movements or just Declan making fun of me.” [Declan: A little bit of both Marie!]
However, she reports that you get a real sense of achievement as you slowly return to full function:
"Beyond that, there is the satisfaction to feel that you are getting better and better and you can again do stuff you couldn't the week before.”
It is not just up to the surgeon and the physio to get you better – it takes a lot of commitment and hard work from the patient themselves. As Marie says,
“Motivation and commitment are key to recovery. Fortunately, you have your physio by your side, to support you and relieve the pain when necessary. However, when it it comes to leaving the office and going to the (so boring) gym to do difficult or quite painful exercise, only you can make it work.”
Finding the right physio and physio clinic is key – after all, you are going to spend the majority of a year working together, seeing each other weekly throughout the time period! Marie felt she made the right choice:
"At UFIT, Declan and the team have been supporting me along the recovery journey, giving me confidence I can do it, that I will recover and practice all the sports I like again. And this is not as easy as it sounds for sometimes I did not progress as fast as I expected, some other times I felt pain again and had to slow down or even go back to the previous month program. It would have been so discouraging without their support.”
Creating a supportive atmosphere is key, but Marie believes it is more than this, it also requires trust.
“I had a great experience at UFIT. Everyone, from the receptionist to the physio team is welcoming, positive and attentive to your needs. They are great professionals providing an efficient recovery plan, prescribing relevant exercises, executing targeted massage and treatment.
But they do much more: they build trust. The best technical skills are not worth much if you don't trust your physio and you don't trust yourself. When someone tells you "drop your crutches and walk to the end of the corridor", believe me, you need to trust that person to do it. Recovering from an injury is a challenge. As any challenge, it requires you to be confident that you can succeed.”
Marie’s recovery led her to committing and achieving an incredible goal:
“I have just run my first Olympic Distance triathlon. I was more motivated than ever. I trained intensively for the last 3 months, starting as soon as my recovery at UFIT ended. And believe me, I am nothing like an athlete! Yet, along my recovery journey, I learned how to strive for progress, endure long, sometimes boring exercise sessions and a reasonable amount of pain. A beneficial experience in many aspects.”
The process is definitely a two way street, and requires both the patient and the therapist to collaborate and work hard to get the best results. The UFIT Clinic Senior Physio, Declan Halpin enjoyed working with Marie,
“My job is easy when a patient like Marie comes in. From day one she was determined and motivated to succeed, and never backed down from a challenge, or said ‘No’ when I asked her for another rep or set. It is easy to see when patient’s aren’t sticking to their rehab program – their progress is slow, and they fall behind in their recovery. This was never the case with Marie, and you can see this from what she has achieved in less than a year after such a serious injury.”
Marie says there is nothing she would have changed in her rehab process, and has given the UFIT Clinic the best compliment that anyone can give – referring her friends and family to come and see the team.
“I would like to recommend the UFIT physio team and especially Declan to whom I owe a lot, but be patient when trying to get an appointment as they are some of the most recommended physiotherapists across the Island (actually I am sending all my friends, husband and sons to UFIT).”
Thank you Marie – congratulations on your recovery and your Triathlon, and hopefully see you soon (but not too soon)!!
If you have suffered from an ACL or other injury, or have questions about your own recovery, please do not hesitate to contact the UFIT Clinic at +65 6532 2025, or find us at www.ufitclinic.com