Don't let knee injuries derail your dreams

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016
VIDEO: Rebecca Wood's story
VIDEO: Rebecca Wood's story

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (WPVI) -- A multi-knee ligament injury can sound frightening, but with the right care you can get back on your feet, on your way to living your dreams.

Rebecca Wood knows this first-hand. By the time she was 22, she had been through four knee surgeries.

In 2011, as a high school senior, the Cherry Hill native suffered her first ACL tear on her right knee.

"I had no idea what I did. I tried to stand, tried to get up, I couldn't do it. So, I found out I tore my ACL," Rebecca said.

She knew she had a tough road ahead, so the first stop on her journey was the office of Dr. Mark Pollard, an Orthopaedic Surgeon at Cooper Bone and Joint Institute.

"It was a very common, almost a textbook ACL tear," Dr. Pollard said.

He said most ACL injuries can't be repaired. Instead, the damaged tissue must be replaced using a tendon or a ligament from another part the patient, or a cadaver graft.

After successful surgery, Rebecca's next hurdle was rehab.

"Rehab is a pain!" she said. "It is a long, excruciating, tiring journey, but it's for the best."

"There's a bunch of mountains to climb, so healing up the injury - and also getting all the motion and strength back, and all the balance - is the most difficult part," said Dr. Pollard.

Rebecca entered her freshman year of college healthy, but cautious, as she got back on the field for the first time since her injury.

"It was terrifying, because I couldn't do what the girls could do in the beginning," she said.

But it didn't take long for Rebecca to find her footing. She propelled the Rowan Women's Lacrosse team to four winning seasons.

"I was able to earn All-American for D-3 lacrosse, which is basically the highest honor you can get," said Rebecca.

In her final collegiate game Rebecca score her 250th career goal. But, on the very next possession, she felt a terrifyingly familiar feeling.

"It was utter disappointment. As soon as I went down, I knew," Rebecca said. "I knew I was going back to Dr. Pollard."

Having already been through it once, Dr. Pollard was confident that Rebecca's second rehabilitation would be a success.

"She's never felt sorry for herself, but it has to be devastating to go through all the work on the one side, when she was in high school, and get back to that level - and realizing she has to do that all over again," Dr. Pollard said.

With her lacrosse career behind her, Rebecca is working on a new set of goals.

"Now that my collegiate career has ended, and I graduated from Rowan, my next step is to pursue a career in law enforcement," said Rebecca.

With two ACL surgeries behind her, nothing is slowing her down from living her life-long dream.

"I got it! I know that my knee is not going to stop me," Rebecca said, "as long as I work hard and don't give up."

What you need to know about multi-knee ligament injuries:

Knee ligaments are bands of connective tissue that connect and stabilize the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). The five primary ligaments in the knee include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral (or fibular) collateral ligament (LCL), and the posterolateral corner (PLC).

Knee ligaments are torn or stretched when the forces applied to the ligament exceed their strength. These forces can come from obvious causes, like a hit to the knee during a tackle in a football game. They can also occur from non-contact situations, where an athlete attempts to quickly change direction while running. Many non-contact ACL injuries occur in basketball, football, and soccer.

Symptoms of knee ligament injuries usually are "popping," apprehension, instability, pain and swelling. The swelling in the knee may not be immediate. Instability is the sensation that the knee bones are "sliding" or "shifting" out of place.

Physical examination and history are the most important elements in diagnosing a knee ligament injury. As the knee is stressed in various positions, the integrity of the different ligaments is checked. Imaging studies such as x-rays can be helpful to identify bony injuries. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be very helpful in identifying ligament injuries.

Each knee ligament injury is unique. Some injuries may be managed with non-operative care and rehabilitation. Some injuries require surgical treatment with ligament repair or reconstruction. Most knee ligament injuries that are treated surgically can be successfully treated with arthroscopic surgery which is minimally-invasive. Treatment decisions are made based on the physical examination of the knee, the imaging studies, and the activity level and expectations of the patient. Whether the decision is operative or non-operative, rehabilitation will need to be performed.

It is extremely difficult to make general conclusions regarding outcomes, as each injury is unique. These injuries may range from minor injuries from which recovery is complete, to devastating injuries that make walking difficult even after appropriate treatment. Compared to other chronic injuries, early treatment of knee ligament injuries has often shown improved outcomes.

To learn more about multi-knee ligament injuries, or to learn how to make an appointment with Dr. Pollard, please visit CooperHealth.org/Ortho.