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Healing ACL injuries from the inside out

Nearly 200,000 ACL reconstruction surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, and now, there’s a new less invasive treatment option.

SAN DIEGO, Calif — Whether you’re a weekend warrior, amateur athlete, or pro, tearing your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, can sideline you for several months, possibly even a year. 

Nearly 200,000 ACL reconstruction surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, and now, there’s a new less invasive treatment option that can get athletes back in the game faster than ever before.

With every leg lift, Jenna Richardson is one step closer to getting back to the things she loves.

“About every other weekend, we fly all over the world to ski. I love to surf and we travel all around the world for that, too,” Richardson said.

But it was the last run of the day on her mountain bike that stopped her in her tracks.

“I was riding down a big rock and the back of the bike kind of flew around to the front of the bike. My front tire got stuck and my knee went with it,” she remembered.

It completely tore her ACL, which is a band of tissue that runs through the center of the knee. In the past, orthopedic surgeon at the San Diego, California Scripps Clinic, Dr. Tim Wang, MD, would need to build a new ACL from tissue from the patient’s other healthy knee, or cadaver tissue, requiring two surgical sites. 

But now, this tiny implant is repairing ligaments from the inside out in one procedure.

“This is one of the first times that we're able to repair somebody's own ACL and support it as it heals with a collagen sponge,” Dr. Wang said.

Through a tiny incision, surgeons stitch the ligaments together, then insert the bridge-enhanced ACL repair, or BEAR, implant between the torn ligaments.

Dr. Wang explained, “It's about the size of a marshmallow and we soak it and load it with the patient's own blood and insert that into the knee through a small incision.”

The collagen helps to heal the gap between the two ends of the ruptured ligament. The patient’s body absorbs the implant material within a few months.

Just a few weeks out from surgery, Jenna is hoping to lose her crutches soon and hopes to get back to doing what she loves.

Benefits include a less invasive single-site surgery, less time in the operating room, and shorter healing time and recovery. The BEAR implant is the only device cleared by the FDA for ACL restoration. 

You must be at least 14 years old, with a complete rupture of the ACL, and it must be implanted within 50 days of the injury. Nationwide, 100 surgeons in 26 states are performing the BEAR procedure.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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