longtime, competitive soccer goalie, seventeen-year-old Kelly Yerkes is no stranger to the lumps and bumps left behind from sinister slide tackles, errant elbows and hair-raising headers.
But nothing could have prepared this 2009 New Hanover High School graduate for the pain she experienced more than two years ago in a match she’ll never forget:
“I was coming out to get the ball, and it was bouncing. I jumped up to reach it, and when I landed, I heard a ‘pop’ – and I mean a loud pop! It hurt so bad!”
That “pop,” Yerkes later learned, turned out to be a common symptom for an injury that would eventually require surgery, leaving her sidelined for months: a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in her left knee. Yerkes had her surgery performed at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s nationally ranked Orthopedic Center at Cape Fear Hospital, home to 23 board-certified orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists.
“An ACL tear often occurs with activities where there’s lots of twisting, turning and pivoting movement, including jumping and landing,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dale Boyd of Cape Fear Sports Medicine, who treated Yerkes. “Athletes in highdemand sports like football, basketball and soccer often have a higher incidence for an ACL injury or tear.”
One of the knee’s four major ligaments, the ACL, which attaches to the femur (thigh bone) on one end and the tibia (shin bone) on the other, is critical to the stability of the knee joint, as it helps prevent the tibia from sliding too far forward. When this ligament tears, the knee becomes less stable, and surgical reconstruction of the ligament may be necessary, said Dr. Boyd.
“ACL reconstruction involves the use of a segment of another larger ligament or tendon to replace the torn ACL,” said Dr. Boyd. “The procedure usually lasts one and a
half to two hours and is generally an outpatient procedure.”
After surgery, a patient is fitted with a temporary knee brace and given crutches to assist in walking, with a full return to normal activities taking anywhere from four to six months, he said.
“I started back running after about four and a half months,” said Yerkes, who underwent months of intense physical therapy. “And I returned to playing soccer at about six months – it was definitely a long recovery, but well worth it."
Second Tear Sidelines Again
Any satisfaction derived from Yerkes’ initial ACL reconstruction was short-lived, however, when in another match the very next year she suffered another ACL tear – this time in her right knee.
Bilateral ACL tears, or ACL tears affecting both knees, are not that uncommon, explained Dr. Boyd.
“It’s not that unusual for some patients, especially women, who have experienced an ACL tear in one knee to suffer a similar ACL tear in the other,” he said.
Reasons for bilateral ACL tears, and the gender disparity that often accompanies their incidence, include anatomic, neuromuscular and hormonal factors, research suggests.
Once again, Yerkes underwent ACL reconstruction, followed by months of physical rehabilitation.
Today, twin, two-inch vertical scars – one on the face of each knee – are testimonies to Yerkes’ long journey back to a sport she loves and plans to continue.
“My family and I didn’t think twice about getting this procedure done,” said Yerkes. “Dr. Boyd and his staff were great, and I’m back doing what I love.”
For more information on the NHRMC Orthopedic Center, visit www.nhrmc.org/orthopedics or call VitaLine at 815.5188.
Below, in his own words, orthopedic surgeon and ACL reconstruction specialist Dr. Michael Carter of Carter Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine advises on the nature and treatment of ACL reconstruction.
Injury to the ACL ligament occurs most often during sports which require abrupt changes in direction, such as soccer, basketball and football. Most often, it is a non-contact injury – the leg simply gives way when the player tries to “plant” and push off the leg.
ACL reconstruction can be highly successful in restoring stability to the knee after ACL rupture. In fact, 90% of athletes who undergo reconstruction will be able to return to their sport on a similar preinjury level whether they are professional, collegiate or recreational athletes.
It is never too late to have a reconstruction, even if symptoms develop years after an ACL injury, often because of changes in activity over time or stretching out of the secondary restraints of the knee.
For more information on the NHRMC Orthopedic Center, visit www.nhrmc.org/ orthopedics or call VitaLine at 815.5188.