Matt Ferguson

Daily Egyptian

Header:  Knee injuries hurt, not always career ending        or       ACL injuries hurt, not always the end

Injuries to knee ligaments have claimed the seasons of players such as Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, Olympic Skier Lindsey Vonn and the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose.

It is an injury not uncommon for athletes because of the physical strain they apply to themselves and on fellow competitors.  Although the injury could potentially devastate a career, the moment the injury occurs has an unexpected feel, said Chelsea Cunningham, a former Saluki volleyball player.

“It’s a very weird experience,” she said. “It’s very painful when it first happens, but then you feel nothing. I thought I was okay at first, but when I was getting up I couldn’t really balance myself and if I stayed still for a while my kneecap would swell up to the size of a grapefruit.”

Cunningham is no stranger to knee ligament injuries as she has endured three separate tears of her anterior cruciate ligament.  She said the more tears you sustain, the more likely you are to tear it again in either knee.

“I had a lot of emotions every single time,” Cunningham said.  “(While waiting for my MRI) I had this little glimmer of hope that, ‘okay, maybe nothing is wrong with me,’ but this last time I knew what it was.  Some people are just more prone to having those injuries and I guess I was just one of them.”

The injuries resulted in Cunningham’s collegiate career end, for fear of further injury.  However, the tear does not always mean the end of a player’s career.

Vikings halfback, Adrian Peterson, showed this variation over the past two seasons.  He had both his ACL and MCL torn in a game against the Washington Redskins late in the 2011 season.  Despite this, Peterson ran for a career high in yards the following year.  His 2,097 yards were just eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s record.  Although he fell short of breaking it, his effort earned him the NFL MVP and offensive player of the year awards.

According to T. Lee Land, SIU’s assistant athletic director for sports medicine and performance, the normal return to play from an ACL injury is about six months, but really it takes nine to 15 months before guys are really saying it feels the way it was before the surgery.

“That’s what’s so impressive about Adrian Peterson’s case,” Land said.  “Here he tears his ACL at the end of the 2011 season, and essentially nine months later he returns to play and starts a season where he starts to challenge Dickerson’s single-season record. That’s incredible.”

Rich Clough, department of anatomy professor and chair, credited the surgical procedure’s advancement to the ligament’s advanced recovery time. He said repairment surgery takes a piece of the patellar ligament and uses it to replace the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. The patellar ligament section the gets sewn shut, he said, and it heals over.

“The rehab and surgery to replace ruptured ligaments is a heck of a lot better than it used to be,” Clough said. 

Although the surgery is serious, Cunningham said it is not the most difficult part.

Full recovery of the afflicted leg back to its original strength can prove to be a challenge, he said.

“The rehab is god awful, Cunningham said.  “It is the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life.  You really have to push yourself every day to wake up and go to rehab, and know that you’re working to make your leg healthier and better in the long run. That’s the only way your leg is going to feel somewhat like it used to feel.”

Despite her injuries, Cunningham stays involved with sports in media services and had words of confidence for players who suffered from the same injuries.

“Anybody going through this injury, I just want to let them know that they can do it, Cunningham said.  “I have done it three times now and my sister has gone through two knee injuries and I want them to know it is possible. Stay strong and keep your head up.”

Matt Ferguson can be reached at or at 533-3611 ext. 282.

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