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May 24, 2022

ACL Tears: When Is Surgery The Right Answer?

ThedaCare Orthopedic Surgeon Explains Why a Patient’s Goals Guide the Decision

Professional athletes are not the only folks who might find themselves with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury or tear.

“Anyone who participates in cutting, pivoting or jumping activities could potentially suffer an ACL injury,” explained Nick Linkous, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “The ACL is one of four main ligaments in the knee. It has two functions; it provides stability to the shinbone moving forward and rotational stability at the knee. Functionally that ligament is really important for people who participate in activities involving cutting and pivoting, such as racquet sports, football, basketball, soccer, skiing or golfing.”

Dr. Linkous noted that there are many ways to injure an ACL. The most common is what is considered a non-contact injury.

“Typically, it is not two athletes colliding that causes an ACL injury,” said Dr.  Linkous. “Rather, someone will plant their foot and shift their weight or land with their foot turned and feel a pop or tear. Another mechanism of injury is a forceful twisting of the foot and leg commonly seen in downhill skiers.”

Swelling, pain and difficulty putting weight on the knee typically follow an ACL injury. That’s when it’s time to see a doctor.

“Once there is a diagnosis of an ACL rupture, there are treatment options” said Dr. Linkous. “There is the possibility of surgery, or therapy. The answer is directed by the patient’s personal goals. Often, if the activities you were doing when you tore your ACL are the ones you want to keep participating in, then surgery is probably recommended.”

He noted that someone who is less active, perhaps a little older and more sedentary might be just fine with getting the strength of their leg and their range of motion back via physical therapy rather than surgery.

“Generally speaking, you can live your life in a fairly normal way after therapy for an ACL tear,” said Dr. Linkous. “You can get back to walking, light jogging, biking – things that don’t require you to shift your weight and turn direction. Sometimes people might experience a sensation of instability or not trusting their knee going up or down stairs, which might cause them to choose surgery over therapy in the end.”

For active people participating in sports involving cutting and pivoting, reconstruction surgery is likely the best treatment.

“Without surgery we know there’s a higher incidence for cartilage and meniscus injury in younger athletes,” Dr. Linkous added.

Reconstruction surgery involves using the patient’s own tendon to create a new ligament. That’s followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation to help the patient regain full strength in their leg and full range of motion in their knee. Following the rehabilitation and therapy plan will be important for proper healing and achieving the best possible outcomes. Full recovery generally takes about nine months.

Looking Ahead: ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain

Dr. Linkous is enthusiastic about ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, which is expected to open soon. This will be the region’s only comprehensive health center specializing in orthopedic, spine and pain care. The 230,000 sq. ft. Center includes a medical office building, specialty surgery center, and orthopedic and spine hospital with 25 in-patient beds, as well as support services, such as imaging, lab, retail pharmacy and dining, for total patient care at a single destination. The services offered will enhance access to specialized experts, where care teams understand each person’s unique medical background, lifestyle and personal goals, getting patients back to living their best life, sooner.

“Among the many unique features at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, our patients will benefit from surgery suites with the latest technology, private recovery rooms and state-of-the-art physical therapy equipment and facilities,” said Dr. Linkous. “These strategically designed features will allow our orthopedic care teams to provide comprehensive care for our patients, close to home. The new facility will allow patients to access even greater integrated care. From the initial consultation to surgery, recovery and rehabilitation – it will all be available at the new location, which will make treatment even more comprehensive and convenient for patients.”

ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain is expected to open in summer 2022.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.