Nov. 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM ET
News that Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn suffered another ACL injury to her right knee in a crash during training on Tuesday has U.S. ski fans wondering: How bad is the tear to her ligament and will it impact her health long term?
“Lindsey sustained a mild strain to her right knee, a partial tear to her right ACL, minor facial abrasions and scapular contusions from her fall,” her publicist said in an email on Wednesday afternoon. “She needs to rest for a few days and then will pursue aggressive physical therapy and will determine the next time she is able to compete after seeing how she responds to the treatment.”
A “partial tear” doesn’t tell us much about Vonn’s prognosis, said Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum, a sports medicine physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. (Rosenbaum has not seen Vonn’s injury or treated her, but could speak generally about ACL injuries in athletes.)
It could mean Vonn is able to function normally -- or it could mean her knee is functioning as bad as it would be if the ligament had torn completely. If it’s the former, she could be back on her skis in a few days to a week, Rosenbaum says. But if it’s the latter, and her knee is “slipping and sliding” as she tries to use it, “that’s a bad sign,” Rosenbaum says, because an ACL injury may require surgery, which can mean up to nine months of recovery time.
Vonn injured the same knee earlier this year, when she crashed in the World Championships in February. She tore her ACL, MCL and fractured her lateral tibial plateau; that time, she needed her ACL to be surgically reconstructed. After an ACL reconstruction, female athletes are particularly vulnerable to a second ACL injury, a recent study showed.
ACL injuries are common among skiers.
“They’re putting such incredible force on their knees – their knees are rotating, while absorbing force, while their foot and upper body are going in different directions, sometimes having to stop suddenly – and all this force and speed and this long lever on their foot taking them one way while their body goes another,” Rosenbaum says.
Vonn’s publicist said Wednesday afternoon that further updates would be provided when new information becomes available.