Tom Brady—ACL Tear

Tom Brady
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Tom Brady is a professional football player currently playing for the New England Patriots. Brady played college football at the University of Michigan and was drafted in 2000 by the New England Patriots in the sixth round. He was the 2007 NFL Most Valuable Player and has twice been named Super Bowl MVP.

The Injury

In the first game of the 2008 NFL season, Brady was injured when he was struck on his knee by Kansas City Chiefs defender Bernard Pollard. Brady collapsed to the ground in obvious pain and had to be assisted off the field by athletic trainers. After the game, Brady was examined and had an MRI that diagnosed him with a season-ending knee injury. Brady had sustained an ACL tear as well as an MCL tear. ACL injuries can occur among professional athletes as either a noncontact injury or in a contact injury such as a tackle. Most ACL injuries are noncontact injuries in which the athlete was simply changing direction and the knee "gave out" from underneath their body. However, in the case of Brady and many other football players, the injury occurred as the result of another player striking their knee.

ACL Tears

ACL tears are common sports injuries. The ACL is one of four major knee ligaments that control stability of the knee joint. Without an intact ACL, participants in sports such as football often complain of symptoms of knee instability. The ACL does not heal itself when completely torn, and, therefore, surgical reconstruction of the ligament is the usual treatment. Without undergoing surgical reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament, athletes will typically have a difficult time returning to certain sports. Some activities, such as cycling, swimming, and even jogging, may be possible to return to, even at high-performance levels. However, athletic activities that involve cutting, pivoting, and side-to-side movements generally require a functioning anterior cruciate ligament. For this reason, most high-level athletes will undergo ACL reconstruction in order to regain sufficient stability in their knee to allow resumption of athletic activities.

The Rehabilitation

After the ACL has been reconstructed, the athlete still has a long road ahead. Rehabilitation after ACL surgery takes six to nine months before athletes can return to sports. While professional athletes are able to devote more time to rehabilitation and can, therefore, accelerate their rehab, the demands of their sport are also higher than nonprofessional athletes. It is unusual to return to sports before six months from the time of surgery. Therefore, NFL football players who sustain an ACL tear are likely injured for the remainder of the season. The long-term outlook for people who have sustained an ACL injury with subsequent reconstruction is that while they are likely to return to sports activities, there is a significant increase in the chance of developing arthritis later in life. While this tends to occur decades after they injure their ACL, these individuals have a much higher likelihood of developing arthritis and even needing knee replacement surgery when they are older.

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  1. OrthoInfo from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Updated March 2014.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. How certain knee injuries may increase your risk for osteoarthritis. Updated September 7, 2017.