Study Finds Alternative to Surgery for Many Torn ACL Injuries


Tearing your ACL is a painful and debilitating injury that has long been remedied with knee surgery to heal the ligament. Still, medical intervention is only the beginning of the process, as patients undergo physical therapy and a lengthy recovery process that can take up to a year. 

It turns out surgery might not be required to recover, though, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The research found that 90 percent of ACL tears in 80 participants showed signs of healing on an MRI after they followed a new bracing protocol that allowed the ligament to heal naturally. 

During the study, patients wore a brace for a month that kept their knees at a 90-degree angle, which keeps the torn ends of the ACL closest together, making it increasingly likely for them to fuse together. Over the next two months, the patients went through physical therapy and their braces were slowly adjusted to allow a greater range of motion. MRIs were then performed when the braces came off at three months and again at six months. The scientists found that most of the ACLs repaired themselves without the need for surgery. 

Related: How to Exercise after an ACL Injury

Study lead author Stephanie Filbay, a research associate at the Center for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at the University of Melbourne in Australia, explained the success of the study to NBC News. “We have now braced over 430 patients in clinical practice, with similar high rates of ACL healing and excellent patient outcomes,” she said. 

More research needs to be done to confirm the benefits of bracing and physical therapy as the sole healing methods for torn ACLs. Still, the team’s findings should come as exciting news for surgery-averse athletes as well as doctors wanting to minimize invasive procedures. 

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