In the moments after she was tackled hard in a club game while playing for Maryland United, Northern High School senior and Vanderbilt University recruit Rachel Deresky knew something was wrong when she attempted to shift from a jog to full speed on the field.
Deresky came off the field with pain in her right knee and hamstring and initially was under the impression that she had suffered a ligament injury. But after undergoing an MRI three days later, Deresky was diagnosed with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in her right knee, and initially expected that she may require surgery and extensive rehab in order to fully recover.
Earlier this spring, Deresky was selected to the High School All-American Girls Soccer Game in St. Louis on May 27 as a member of the East Coast squad, one of only three players from a Maryland school to be so honored. But after parting with the latter portion of her final high school season with the Patriots, Deresky opted out of that contest and continued to focus on her physical therapy and rehab.
“When it first happened, I thought I would be able to walk it off in a few days,” Deresky said. “But the pain was still there a few days later and it was tough to even walk. Initially I thought I might need surgery, but after getting the MRI and a second opinion the doctor who examined it said I should skip surgery and just focus on physical therapy and let it heal over the next two months.”
While there are varying degrees among partial ACL tears, Dr. Barry Boden, an orthopedic surgeon at the Center for Advanced Orthopedics who has treated professional athletes for decades, noted that partial tears on the verge of being total are likely to require surgery. Boden noted such is the case with serious hamstring injuries, many of which also do not require surgery unless a serious tear has occurred.
“When it comes to partial ACL tears, there is a lot of gray area,” Boden said in a recent phone interview. “If the tear is up around 75 to 80%, then typically I would recommend surgery. But anything less than that, depending on the athlete, it is probably best to bypass surgery in favor of physical therapy. A full ACL tear can take six to nine months to heal, but a partial ACL tear often requires six to eight weeks.”
Boden was recently awarded the Orthopedic Research and Education Foundation Clinical Research Award from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons for his years of sports injury research. Some of his research has led to protocols for student-athletes. For more than 20 years he has studied the epidemiology and causes of severe sports injuries to develop preventive strategies, with a focus on ACL injuries and catastrophic sports injuries.
Deresky missed the last half of her abbreviated senior season with the Patriots and she is going to bypass the All-Star game in St. Louis later this month, but she is eager to resume conditioning and then get back on the field with her Vanderbilt University teammates later this summer.
“It’s tough not being able to play right now,” Deresky said. “But the main thing for me is to let my knee completely heal. I really did not want to get the surgery and so far I’ve been able to gradually walk more each day. I can’t wait to start jogging and running again and eventually get back to full speed.”
Knee injuries are certainly nothing new to high school, college and professional athletes, but there are varying options for those athletes depending on the extent of the knee injury. Those who suffer a full ACL tear often had no choice but to undergo surgery and a lengthy rehab, but in the case of partial tear such as the one Deresky was diagnosed with, several weeks or months of physical therapy can often get athletes back on their feet.