For many athletes who experience debilitating injury to their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – the ligament that keeps the knee in place – getting back to the same level of performance is difficult. But doctors at the Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center offer an innovative surgery that can help these athletes return to play – and still maintain a healthy knee decades down the line. It’s called the double-bundle ACL reconstruction.
“Unlike traditional ACL surgeries, double-bundle ACL reconstruction recreates the normal anatomy of the ligament,”explains Walter Lowe, M.D., co-medical director at the Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance at Memorial Hermann and chief of sports medicine, department of orthopaedic surgery, Baylor College of Medicine. “This technique is supported by the biomechanical literature and has been performed in other countries for years with excellent results.”
Dr. Lowe, who performs up to 350 ACL reconstruction surgeries each year, has extensively studied doublebundle reconstruction in Germany. The procedure is new to the United States but currently offered by Dr. Lowe at the Rogers Clemens Institute.
The ACL at Work
The ACL, which connects the thigh and shin bones, is comprised of two bundles of ligament tissue that fan out through the knee. These bundles keep the knee stable by preventing the shin from sliding forward at any range of motion. Many sports require a functioning ACL for moves such as quick turns and pivots.
In traditional ACL surgery, the ligament is replaced with a single graft of tissue that’s bundled together to connect the two bones. In contrast, the double-bundle technique uses two grafts, which better control the rotation of the knee.
“The technique recreates the old ligament as it was,” says Dr. Lowe. “As a result, it provides excellent long-term function and, unlike traditional surgery, reduces damage to the knee’s cartilage, lowering the risk of arthritis over time.”
Dr. Lowe explains that not everyone is a candidate for this surgery. For example, the reconstruction takes longer to heal, so it’s not appropriate for those who want to get back to high-impact activity immediately. He also stresses that the double-bundle technique is not the only way to fix an ACL injury. Single-bundle reconstruction is still an appropriate solution for many people.