The trials and tribulations of dealing with an ACL injury.
My initial thoughts after surgery was that my knee felt like it had been sawed in half and sello-taped back together, it was that loose. You just have to stay positive because if you don’t, that’s when problems can start.”
These are the words of AFC Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings, who spent 12 months in recovery after tearing his Anterior Cruciate ligament (ACL) in September 2015.
Tearing the ACL is a common injury suffered in men’s professional football, but it can be one of the most career threatening.
A Swedish study found that 35% of professional footballers fail to maintain the standard of football played before their injury just three years after suffering the initial ACL rupture/tear.
Speaking to FourFourTwo, 23-year-old Mings highlights the importance of trying to maintain a positive attitude throughout rehabilitation. “When I woke up from the first operation, I had around 30 staples keeping the skin on my knee together, two brand new ligaments had been formed inside, and a big strip of my tendon had been removed (you can see the scar there),” he gestured and laughed as I grimaced. The strip of tendon removed was around eight inches in length.
“I never really thought about whether I would or would not play the same way again. I tried to remain positive,” says Mings, he was cheerful.
Sports psychologist Gemma Bragg says mental repercussions to suffering a long term injury such as an ACL tear or rupture can include high stress levels, social anxiety and even depression.
“Without the help of psychologists, some athletes are incredibly isolated, which can lead to depression among other mental health problems,” she explains.
“In different athlete’s respective sports, goals help to identify the work each individual is putting in, something that athletes deal with on a daily basis,” she added. I wanted to understand whether the psychologists worked with any relevant third parties.
“We like to work with physiotherapists first hand to help set an individual’s goals within the rehabilitation, it gives them focus.”
Without the help of psychologists, some athletes are incredibly isolated, which can lead to depression among other mental health problems.”
When asked if he had suffered any mental health problems during recovery, Mings was appreciative with his reply.
“Of course, there were times I would seek advice from the club psychologists when I was feeling down, they were invaluable to my recovery.”
Mings’ story is unique. August 29 of 2015 would mark the defenders Premier League debut, introduced as a halftime substitution against Leicester City at home, yet it took just six minutes of play before Mings fell to the floor clutching his leg.
“My knee felt like it was on fire, it felt red hot. I signalled and the physio came on to test it out. He knew straight away I had to come off,” he said, it was plain to see the particular moment sticks clear in the Englishman’s mind.
In September, Bath born Mings underwent full ACL reconstruction surgery. Come November, he’d found himself back in the hospital wing as a result of excessive scar tissue building up inside the knee. Another operation was conducted, but it did not end there.
“Everything was going okay after the second op until March,” said Mings, a wry smile on his lips. “When I tried to start running outside, the pins they had used to secure the ligament were rubbing, causing further inflammation inside the knee cap. I had to have another operation, luckily it was my last.”
Found in the knee, the ACL is one of four ligaments connecting the femur and tibia bones (thigh, lower leg), and assists with stability by controlling forward and backward leg movements. To rupture or fully tear the ligament is often a result of over-stretching the knee while turning, something common in sport and football in particular.
I have heard of one surgeon who severed a key artery in the leg and the patient subsequently had to have their leg amputated. Some patients have died from the surgeon failing to identify or treat a blood clot in time.”
Charles Willis-Owen has conducted full ACL reconstruction surgery on professional footballers throughout his career, but highlights the gruesome reverberations of poor knife work.
“I have heard of one surgeon who severed a key artery in the leg and the patient subsequently had to have their leg amputated,” he says earnestly. “Some patients have died from the surgeon failing to identify or treat a blood clot in time. That being said, the vast majority of procedures are carried out smoothly and patients can be up and walking within a few hours.” Patients would be wise to choose a surgeon with care.
Footballers rushing back into action as a result of pressure from a coach is not unusual, and former West Ham United first team physiotherapist Andrew Walker explains physiotherapy is paramount to successful ACL rehabilitation.
“Both coaches and the player themselves are often eager for a quick return, but it is the job of the physio to overrule both, otherwise the player is vulnerable to aggravating the initial injury, or drawing a new one.” However, Walker believes ACL rehabilitation has it’s positives.
A good marker in knowing whether to be introduced back into training and competitive fixtures is to assess whether the player is physically in a better way than they were before the injury.”
“A good marker in knowing whether to be introduced back into training and competitive fixtures is to assess whether the player is physically in a better way than they were before the injury, he says.”
And Mings agrees that being incorporated back into full training was a gradual process.
“We were in Chicago for pre-season in July 2016, and I got involved in a drill, shadow play meaning non-contact,” he explains.
“Sometimes I would join in training and it would just be a passing drill, then it would be a match but the others couldn’t tackle me. It was a case of being eased in slowly.”
Mings is tasked now with proving his manager that he can provide a standard of football he once possessed, despite the setbacks.
Determined, Mings says: “When the day comes to put on the shirt, I will be hungrier than ever, after everything that I have been through.”
Read – Read the full article about dealing with an ACL injury.
Watch – How does quality of surgery effect ACL rehabilitation.
Listen – ACL injuries and women’s football.
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