When Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his return from an ACL injury last weekend, he declared that ‘lions don’t recover like humans’. But a new surgical technique could be behind the striker’s miraculous seven-month recovery and is set to accelerate the rehabilitation of a host of other Premier League stars.
More after the break
An ACL injury typically sidelines a player for nine months – but can take even longer depending on the severity of the injury. “The traditional way to repair the damaged knee involves removing part of a player’s hamstring and using that to create a new ACL,” says consultant orthopedic surgeon, Mark Frame. “It takes a long time for it to fuse to the bone and to restore strength in the hamstrings and quadriceps, because they’re inactive for so long during this process.”
However, knee surgeons are now able to use a different type of operation, which could get players back on the pitch faster. “Advances in keyhole surgery mean we can repair the existing ACL, using a technique known as an arthrex internal brace repair, rather than taking tissue from the hamstring,” says Frame. “We can also place it back in its original position, which reduces the amount of bone which needs removing and hardware implanting. A number of Premier League players have had this type of surgery and have returned quicker."
Frame also believes educating players from their teenage years on the risks of ACL injuries in the modern game can help to halt the 50% increase in ACL injuries in the Premier League in the last five years. “The ACL contains sensors which provide feedback to the brain, telling it how much stress it’s under and where it is positionally,” he adds. “If the knee is cold, it won’t send this feedback effectively. Players need to know this from a young age, so they warm-up in the correct manner.”