Like many, you’ve likely had to deal with the pain of a torn ACL at some point in your life. While surgery can be an important step in returning to full knee functionality, one of the biggest challenges that many face when recovering from ACL surgery is regaining thigh muscle mass. In fact, according to some estimates, up to 50% of people who undergo ACL reconstruction surgery experience thigh muscle wasting during their recovery process. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this from happening to you and keep your thigh muscles healthy and strong over the long term.
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How do we gain muscle mass?
When a person exercises, their muscles become stronger in response to the progressive overload. A person’s muscles also need to be progressively loaded on a consistent basis in order to maintain their mass. When someone has an injury, they may experience a decreased muscle mass due to disuse atrophy. Physiotherapy will help prevent this from happening while the patient recovers. Following the surgery people lose mass in response to inactivity
Disuse muscle atrophy
It’s not enough to just get your ACL replaced. If the procedure involves reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament, which connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shinbone), then muscle atrophy will occur as a result of inactivity.
Initial few weeks after ACL surgery, you will mostly be doing rest with limited activities. This will result in loss of muscle mass due to absence of adequate stimulation of muscles. This is called Disuse muscle atrophy.
The importance of starting physiotherapy immediately
Athletes who undergo surgery for an ACL tear often have trouble regaining the strength of their quadriceps. Thigh muscles are important because they provide knee stability. The longer the time between injury and surgery, the less likely it is that your quadriceps will return to full strength. Starting physiotherapy immediately after surgery gives your quadriceps the best chance of strengthening. A well-customized physiotherapy protocol with quadriceps strengthening gives the best results.
If a patient doesn’t follow all physiotherapy protocols, they may have problems with disuse muscle atrophy, which means that muscles may not regain the same amount of mass. This can lead to a long recovery time. Remember this is always a team work which involves surgeon, physiotherapist and patient.
It can take over a year to regain muscle mass
The ideal time for ACL surgery
Getting ACL surgery at ideal time is another way to prevent thigh muscle wasting. This is because following ACL injury patient will not be able work with full strength. This limitation in affected limb results in progressive weakening of thigh muscles. This makes post operative rehabilitation poor and patient will definitely struggle to get back to normal life. So, ideal time of ACL surgery is 4-6 weeks after ACL injury. To much delay results in thigh muscle wasting and makes post op rehabilitation hard.