Anterior cruciate ligament tears are one the most common serious sports knee injuries that lead to prolonged time out from sports participation. It is estimated that approximately 100-200,000 ACL tears occur per year. The incidence of ACL tears has risen over the years due to increasing sports participation, training and the number of games athlete’s are playing. A concerning statistic is that the rate of tears in pediatric age athletes has increased over the last 20 years.
The ACL is an important ligament that provide stability to the knee particularly with pivoting and cutting movements that are common in sports. It is the primary restraint to anterior translation of the tibia on the femur, but also provides significant rotational stability to the knee. Most injuries to the ACL are non contact and occur with rapid direction changes, deceleration and landing from a jump. It is common for the athlete to feel a pop, immediate pain and develop swelling over the first 24 hours.
ACL reconstruction is the usual recommendation to treat an active person with an ACL tear. This is generally performed through an arthroscopic assisted procedure. One of the major considerations is which type of graft to use. In general, graft options include autograft ( the patient’s own tissue) and allograft ( a cadaveric donor tissue). Common autograft options include the patellar tendon, hamstring tendons and quadriceps tendon. Allograft options include the same plus different soft tissue grafts from other areas. Choosing the best graft for each patient depends upon the age of the patient, activity level and a variety of anatomical factors. I utilize all types of graft options in my practice and base the choice of the graft on multiple factors and discussions with my patients.
Within the autograft choices, each has its pro and cons. The patellar tendon graft is considered the gold standard, but the other graft choices may be a better option in select patients. Patient size, type of sport, age (growth plates still open) and history of other knee complaints in the past are important considerations when choosing a graft.
It is generally accepted that autografts have a lower re-tear rate than allograft in younger patients, highly active patients and patients participating in competitive sports. Allograft reconstructions have a similar success rate in patients that are older (generally 35 year-old and up) and do not participate in highly competitive sports on a frequent basis. The research continues to define which grafts have the best success in different patients and new information continues to guide our decision making.