By Mark Docherty
A ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament is one of the most feared injuries in the sporting world. For footballers at the highest level, it can keep them out for upwards of nine months, while in extreme cases it can end their careers. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Yannick Bolasie, Alan Shearer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Marco Reus, Kurt Zouma, Francesco Totti, and Paul Gascoigne have all fallen victim to the dreaded affliction. Now another great has been added to the list.
Next week I go under the knife to reconstruct my ACL and, while my injury may not have as marked an effect on the wider footballing world than some of the others listed, it might be interesting to see the recovery process from the point of view of somebody who doesn’t have access to the facilities international players have at their disposal. I will not have the use of underwater treadmills or anti-gravity machines in my quest to get back to sport, so nine months could be the best-case scenario for me. Zlatan Ibrahimović declared on his return to action that ‘lions don’t recover like humans’, after just eight months out. What I am trying to do is determine whether highly athletic individuals with access to the best medical care and rehabilitation in the world recover like mere mortals who need to balance rehab with full-time education and part-time work.
Already the answer seems to be no. Most top-level players undergo surgery days after their injury and can allow their every movement to revolve around getting back into action. However, I have been injured since February 2017, and will only have my surgery in early December under the NHS. That means that Ibrahimović made his first appearance for Manchester United in the same time that it has taken me to even get the surgery. When the swede was injured in April, I thought it might be interesting to see who could recover from our respective injuries quicker, given I had a two month head start on him, and him being 18 years older than I am, but it has ended up being a non-contest due to footballers’ access to elite medical care. So far I have been out for ten months, with the prospect of another nine at least to come.
For those who are lucky enough never to have come into contact with a ruptured ACL, I will explain what it entails. Though I am no doctor, my understanding is that the Anterior Cruciate Ligament connects the thigh bone to the knee. It is usually injured by sharp twisting motions (mine was done through my studs being caught in the grass when I turned, and then later landing awkwards with my leg outstretched). The reason the recovery process is so long is that the ACL doesn’t heal itself, meaning that it must be fixed with major surgery where the ruptured ACL is taken out and replaced by tendons from either the hamstring or the patella, (mine is the hamstring). Although I have been able to walk since my injury, I will be on crutches for between a month and three months after the surgery, after which I can really begin the rehabilitation process and aim to get back to football.
As far as my football is concerned, I am unsure whether I will be the same player if and when I return. I am a centre-half who never had much pace to lose in the first place and whose game revolves around tough tackling and just generally being physical. Hopefully I will still be able to go into those 50/50 challenges I so cherish once I am fully recovered!
My lifestyle is a far cry from that of a top-level professional footballer, but hopefully the timescale of my recovery from one of the most feared injuries in the game will be similar to one. I will be documenting my recovery at different points along the line, and comparing and contrasting it to that of a professional. The wait for surgery has already meant that I’ve missed a ten month chunk of my footballing career, but my aim is to ensure that I miss no more than is absolutely necessary.
Wish me luck.