Chriselle Tidrick, Above and Beyond Dance
Hello Dear Danglers! This week, I bring to you……. A GUEST BLOGGER!!! The amazing Chriselle Tidrick from Above and Beyond Dance recently shared her ACL rehab story with a reader, and generously allowed me to reprint it here. If you’ve torn your ACL, or have another serious injury, I hope her words inspire you to keep going, heal up, and be smart about it! I’ve seen her work recently, and you would never believe she’d ever had an injury. She was incredibly diligent in her PT, and made healing her second job. I love how she doesn’t sugar-coat it! Love and pull-ups, Laura
I unfortunately, do have a lot of experience with knee injuries. I tore my ACL in 2012, and I hate to say but it’s a very challenging injury to deal with. You can certainly get through this and return to a full performance life. (Thankfully, I have.) But, it takes a lot of time and a lot of work.
In terms of the injury itself, let me share a few things which you may already know, but which I wish I understood more fully when I tore my ACL. Every orthopedist has a slightly different method of bringing you back after ACL surgery. I happened to have a very conservative orthopedist. The drag of this choice is that it took me longer than many others to make a full recovery. The good thing is that he was really making an effort to protect me from re-tearing the ACL. My understanding is that if you re-tear the ACL, your chances for making a full recovery are significantly diminished. Like you, I asked very early in the process how soon I could expect to return to aerial. My doctor recounted a horrifying story about how one of his patients returned to aerial too soon and completely ripped out his surgery. Needless to say, this kept me from pushing too far too fast. For me, it was a little over a year before I was back to training, and even then, it was a gradual process of strengthening and rebuilding my comfort level in the apparatus. (My knee is much more sensitive to torque than it used to be.) For a long time, I had to switch to doing a lot of elements on my non-surgery side (which is also my non-dominant side). That said, I understand it makes a difference whether you opt for an autograft or an allograft. If you have an autograft (the doctor uses your own tissue– usually hamstring or patellar tendon), I understand that the healing time is shorter than for an allograft (donor graft). I opted for an allograft because I had a previous injury on the leg with the ACL tear, and I didn’t want to further compromise that leg.
Right after surgery, you are going to spend a lot of time on a knee machine which takes your knee passively through range of motion. I think I was on that thing for something like 6 hours a day. If your orthopedist functions like mine, it will be a week or so before you start PT. You will be shocked to discover how quickly your leg muscles atrophy. Your early PT exercises will be very gentle and very simple, and you will very gradually build up to more full movement. Once I was able, I spent about 2 hours a day, 5-6 days a week doing my PT exercises. I quickly discovered that my desire to keep my aerial muscles in shape was supplanted by a desire to get my knee functioning properly, and my time and energy was mainly directed to doing as much PT as my body could handle. I could carefully do chin-ups, chin holds and shoulder shrugs, and I used a rope pulling machine at the gym, but I really opted to keep my focus on the knee rehab. As soon as my knee was stable enough, I did spend a lot of time also doing floor barre and Pilates. Since you have a doorway bar, you can probably add in L holds pretty early on, but just be careful not to stress out your hip flexors too much. They’ll be pretty stressed from schlepping around on crutches!
I am sure this doesn’t apply to you, if you are already asking about aerial training. It sounds like you are the kind of person who will regularly do her PT. But, honestly, for anyone not serious about keeping up with PT, I’d seriously consider living life with a brace and not doing the surgery. Granted, this choice means you will never be able to return to aerial training, but if you don’t do your PT you won’t be able to go back to it, either…
Let me also stress that it’s important to work with PTs accustomed to dealing with dancers/athletes as you go through this process. Our rehab needs are different from people who have more sedentary jobs, and you will definitely need guidance about what is or is not safe for your knee as you return to training. I was lucky that one of the 2 PTs I worked with at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries does aerial training. She really walked me through my return to aerial. Her suggestion to me was that I start with static trap/lyra and then progress into fabric. I will say that there are definitely more positions involving uncomfortable torque in aerial fabric, so you’ll want to be really careful (go slowly!) as you explore those. I am sure your PTs will tell you this, but hamstring strength is key as you return to aerial.
What can I tell you about coming back to aerial after being away for so many months? Well, it was such a gradual process that, even though I was weak, I could gradually add in more and more strengthening activities at a pace that basically matched the kinds of skills I was allowed to do. For conditioning, I mostly worked shoulder shrugs, chin holds, chin ups, inversions (bent arm and straight arm), and I did a lot of Pilates. The hardest thing was rebuilding my endurance once my knee was strong enough to execute choreographic sequences, but that came back too, as it certainly will for you. I am sorry to tell you that this will be a really slow, annoying and frustrating process, but everything really will come back. At this point, I am as strong as ever and enjoying having a full performing life as a dancer, aerialist and stilt dancer.
Wishing you a smooth recovery process. Believe me, I feel your pain! – Chriselle