Video game for ACL tears

September 22, 2009 7:47:52 AM PDT
It's one of the most common sports injuries: tearing your ACL. Healing can take months. Now, a video game is here to help get people back on their feet. NFL linebacker Kenny Pettway is spending his time off teaching kids the ins and outs of the game.

"I love running down the field and playing special teams, period," said Pettway.

His job: to keep the other team down. But last year, a torn ACL forced him down.

"On kickoff, I was running down. My foot got stuck in the ground, and at the same time, somebody grabbed my shoulder. It just blew my ACL out," said Pettway.

Pettway had a cadaver ACL implanted. Now, he's using this new video game-workout machine to help him get back into playing shape.

"Exercise is not fun especially when you're a pro athlete, and you can't do your thing. You need something to kind of give you a little competition during the exercise and to take your mind off the pain a little bit, too," said Russell M. Paine, PT Director of Rehabilitation Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute Houston, Texas.

Different games help rebuild the ACL. In one, Pettway has to control his knee muscles to control a blue bar. Another tests his power. Another tests duration.

But what's it like compared to his past rehab?

"It's more challenging. It's a little bit more fun because you're playing a game and trying to beat your score. At the end, it gives you a graph and matches your scores up from the previous weeks," said Pettway.

This machine can also be used for hip and ankle injuries.

After two months of using the video game, he's progressed.

"When I first came here, I was on crutches. Now, I don't need them anymore," Pettway said.

Pettway says he'll be ready to get back in the game this fall.

Pettway played for the Jaguars and the Packers but was just recently released from his contract. He wants to get back on the field as soon as possible. He says because of this new game his rehab was shortened by several months.

ACL INJURIES: According to the Mayo Clinic, injuries to the ACL are among the most common of all sports-related knee injuries. Up to 200,000 people sustain a ruptured or torn ACL in the United States each year. The ACL becomes torn when it's stretched beyond its normal range of elasticity. Most often, ACL tears occur when pivoting or landing from a jump. The knee gives out from under the athlete when the ACL is torn. Wearing cleats during aggressive cutting or pivoting activities may increase the risk of ACL injuries. The injury generally occurs during exercise or sports. Women suffer from ACL injuries more than men do. The exact reason is unclear, but some suspect it may be due to differences in anatomy, hormones or strength.

DIAGNOSING AN ACL INJURY: Doctors will typically diagnose an ACL tear by asking about how the injury occurred, examining a patient's knee and possibly conducting an MRI scan. Some common tests doctors may use during an exam include the Lachman test, where patients lie on their backs with their knees bent at a 30-degree angle. The doctor gently moves their lower leg forward at the knee. If their leg moves freely without reaching a firm endpoint, they've torn their ACL. Another test, known as the pivot shift test, involves extending the knee and rotating a patient's foot inward while applying pressure to the outside of the knee and slowly bending it. The doctor is checking for signs of instability indicated by a shifting of the shinbone or the thighbone.

TREATMENT OPTIONS: ACL tears do not always require surgery. There are several important factors to consider before undergoing surgery. If you don't participate in sports that require a functional ACL, and you don't have an unstable knee, experts say you may not need surgery. There is also some debate about how to treat a partial ACL tear. Some believe if the ACL is not completely torn, surgery may not be necessary. Typical surgery for an ACL tear involves reconstruction using another tendon or ligament to substitute for the torn ligament. Risks include infection, persistent instability and pain, stiffness and difficulty returning to your previous level of activity.


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