by DIANA ODUHO
I was in the middle of a scrimmage, two weeks away from the first lacrosse game of the 2016 season. While playing defense, I took a normal step and felt that infamous “pop” often described by athletes. I went down, screaming in agony, knowing what I had done. In a matter of seconds, I was out for the entire season.
An ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear in the knee is universally dreaded by all athletes alike. It does not discriminate against gender, nor sport, and is one of the worst injuries to go through.
The ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee that help provide stability. It crosses in front of the knee with the PCL to form an X, helping control motion back and forth. Because the majority of ACL tears occur through non-contact play, a tear can often be attributed to an awkward landing after a jump or the planting of the leg with a forceful shift in the opposite direction. The ACL doesn’t repair itself, so a graft is necessary for reconstruction.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “about half of all injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament occur along with damage to other structures in the knee, such as articular cartilage, meniscus, or other ligament.” After my MRI, I discovered in addition to an ACL tear, I had also suffered a torn meniscus.
Although I knew I had torn my ACL, when I got those results back, my heart dropped. The reality of having to go through surgery to reconstruct my ACL in addition to long months of vigourous rehab became a reality.
The toughest challenge was not the physical strain, but the psychological battle. I had never gone through anything like an ACL tear before it happened, and it took a toll on my mind. Depression and anger lingered for months after surgery.
Initially, losing a season has a psychological effect, said Stephanie Smith, associate head athletic trainer at Tiffin University.
“They are about to go through the hardest rehab they have been through in their life, both physically and mentally,” she said.
Smith is in her seventh year at TU, and in her time she has personally worked with at least 10 ACL tears. Smith said that after surgery, the mental aspect is harder than the physical aspect. Not being able to run and learning to trust your knee again become a constant battle.
Two of my current lacrosse teammates went through ACL tears and were able to provide comfort and insight, helping me realize I wasn’t alone.
Morgan Sherley, my teammate and friend, has gone through two ACL constructions (one in each knee), as well as a meniscus scope. Although she was able to return to sports only six months after surgery, she said the fear still stayed with her.
“I wasn’t able to play without thinking about my injury and altering the way I played for at least a year after the surgery. Of course, the pain also, immediately after, was pretty rough, too,” she said. “I learned that tearing your ACL or any reconstructive surgery like that is most certainly one of the hardest experiences, if not the hardest, to go through as an athlete.”
Tiffany Anderson, another friend and teammate, was also insightful through her personal experience. She said psychological battles she had included fear of reinjury, like the majority of athletes who are cleared to return to their sports.
“This experience has changed me the most in the way I look at the sport and how you can never take it for granted. Sitting out for so long during the recovery stage, you learn a lot by watching and seeing stuff you might not while playing,” she said.
Although each injury is not the same, the psychological battles athletes face after injury is. Through my experience and the experiences I have witnessed, here are four things that I have learned helped with the psychological battle of an ACL tear:
Although the experience was terrible, it made me stronger. Now fully cleared to play and only weeks away from my first game back, I am more determined than I have ever been.