A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most common sports-related knee injuries. But despite its frequency, healing from reconstructive ACL surgery remains a lengthy, painful process. ACL reconstruction consists of an invasive procedure that involves a tendon graft with holes drilled into the thighbone and shinbone, and the possibility of a future arthritic knee. However, a new procedure is attempting to improve outcomes for a torn ACL by using a sponge scaffold.
How does it work?
This new treatment, which is still in its experimental stages, consists of a sponge scaffold inserted between the torn ends of the knee ligament. The sponge absorbs the blood released from the tears and holds it in place so cells around the torn tissue help it to begin repairing itself. Then, a surgeon sews the torn ligament ends back together, and healing continues with the aid of the sponge. A follow-up MRI around three weeks can indicate how well a patient is progressing. In six-to-eight weeks, the body replaces the sponge with its own natural tissues.
Benefits of this new treatment
As it stands today, about 20 percent of athletes risk re-tearing their ACL after surgery, as well as the development of an arthritic knee. So far, the sponge scaffold treatment as tested in animal trials has produced no arthritis after treatment. Since the body is healing itself rather than replacing tissues with synthetics, it may be a better long-term solution for ACL repair. Plus, as healing takes half of the time as that of today’s ACL surgery, the procedure could allow athletes to return to the sports they love significantly sooner.
Impact on the rehabilitation process
Since the treatment is still in its infancy, it’s not clear how aggressive post-surgery physical therapy should be. Researchers have been working with a group of physical therapists who specialize in Sports Medicine to determine the right level of therapy and a treatment protocol.
What’s to come
After its success in animal trials, the FDA cleared researchers for a 10-patient safety study. Although head researcher Martha Murray is optimistic, the future of the treatment may lie in the hands of future research to further validate outcomes. To learn more about this amazing procedure, and the role that physical therapists play in its future, check out this article from the Wall Street Journal.
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