Tina's ACL Story - My First Major Injury

by Tina S
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

I've played competitive soccer since I was 10 years old. No matter what has happened to me in my life, soccer has always been my outlet. In fact, that's how I spend all of my free time, whether it be playing, watching, coaching... I love soccer.


On February 11th, 2010, I was playing in an intramural game: 6 vs. 6 indoor turf. In the second half, I was just running after the ball - something that is so automatic to me - and all of a sudden, my knee gave out and I heard a terrible popping noise. I went down and a rush of pain hit me. It was no worse than an ankle sprain... but it was my knee so I knew something was wrong. I was helped off the field, but then walked home and, by the next day, I was walking just fine - barely even limping. I thought "how bad could it be?"

After the initial check-up, the doctor couldn't give me a definitive answer on the injury due to the swelling. But, I was convinced that I was "fine" because I could walk... I wanted to play the next day. She told me to stay off of it and come back in a week.

So, last Friday I went back. After a week of no soccer, I was practically going crazy. I tried to fill the void by helping organize/coach my teams, but seeing how much fun everyone was having might have made it worse! I wanted so badly to be playing with my team mates!! What was worse was that I felt totally fine!! I almost had full range of motion and felt absolutely no pain... I was very hopeful...

Then the Doctor's words hit me: "I'm sorry, you've ruptured your ACL and need surgery". The words hit me like a bus - I won't be able to play for almost a year! After 20 minutes of talking about the procedure and what I needed to do next, I booked some physiotherapy, an MRI, and a time to meet with my surgeon. A lot happened in that 20 minutes.

So here I am. I start my first physiotherapy session tomorrow afternoon. Other than feeling frustrated about not being able to play (and missing playoffs for 2 of my teams next week!)... I'm definitely starting to feel "freaked out". I've never had a major injury before, or had surgery, or experienced anything more than a rolled ankle. I'm scared that I'll never play the same, or never get back to where I am now... it's hard to think about anything else.

To ease my mind, I started looking on the internet... and I found that this one in particular was the most helpful. I'm learning about what questions to ask the surgeon, what kind of grafts are possible, the basic surgery procedure etc. It's a lot to take in, but I think that mentally preparing myself is helping ease the stress.

If you're reading this, and have any positive words about recovery time and/or how fast I can get back to playing... I'd really appreciate it.

I'll keep this page updated if you care to follow my "road to recovery". Knowing that others have gone through this experience is really helping the mental side of my recovery.

Cheers!

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May 18, 2011
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Last appointment with my surgeon
by: Tina S

Hey Everyone,

I just got back from my 1 year post-op appointment with my surgeon. He seemed to be happy with the way everything is going and my knee feels great.

Since I last posted, I won a championship with my women's indoor competitive team (that's 2 so far!). Ironically, this was on the same field where I tore my ACL! I'm scoring lots of goals and I barely think about my knee during games! I still have to ice minor swelling after games but I have absolutely no pain. My knee feels stable and I'm playing as intensely as I was playing prior to surgery. I still get a bit of grinding and clicking in my knee, which I'm told is normal. Kneeling is totally fine and my range of motion is very close to 100%.

I've stopped physiotherapy, but continue to do extensive warm up/cool down at games. The strength in my leg is about the same as my dominant leg. The only thing is that I've lost a bit of shooting form in my left leg... but I think that will come back with training! I've now joined a women's competitive 11's team for the summer and my coach (who has had may knee reconstruction surgeries) is pretty good about making sure I take care of my knee.

Other than that, I'm running a 10km race at the end of the month for charity and I'm going to train for a half marathon in the fall.

Wow, I guess my recovery is pretty much done! If you're reading this. I hope that you find some comfort in this story. I feel great and you will get back to where you were before your injury too!

Please keep posting questions if you have them! I'm happy to keep responding.

Good luck everyone!

Cheers!

Jan 20, 2011
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well done!
by: Aussie Girl

What a great story! I have torn my ACL and am now facing the challenges you have faced. It was inspiring to follow your recovery.
All the best for the future and good luck with your soccer!

Jan 08, 2011
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Soccer, soccer, soccer!!!
by: Tina S

Hello,

I was touching the ball a little since the 4 month mark. No running but just stationary passing. After agility training, sprint work outs etc, I returned to soccer at 6 months feeling great. I was a little weak at first and I was very aware of my knee at first. But every game and practice I got stronger, more confident, and my touch came back surprisingly fast! Now I'm 8 months post op and almost back to where I was. Last Sunday I scored for our 1-0 win :)

My advice is to find a physiotherapist who understands how important returning to sport is. My PT is so amazing and I still go see her when my knee swells up after games. This is normal and will continue to happen until the 1 year mark so she just treats the swelling so that I can continue to play hard the following game.

Overall, I barely think about my knee. It's practically back to normal but I can't sit on my leg yet. Kneeling and squating sometimes causes slight discomfort, but only the days after a hard soccer match!!

Good luck with your surgery! Work hard and you'll be back in no time :)

Cheers!

Jan 08, 2011
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have u returned to soccer?
by: Anonymous

how many months post-surgery now ?
what do u feel now?
i am going to have surgery soon!

Sep 29, 2010
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5 Months!
by: Tina S

Hello,

It's been a while since my last post. I am now 5 months and 1 week post op and feeling great! I saw my surgeon about a month ago and he was really happy with my progress. He gave me the okay to run the 10km Terry Fox Run on Sept. 19th and it went really well. I was a bit sore afterward (to be expected), but I iced it immediately afterward and there was barely any swelling.

My work outs have been going well. I'm pretty much back to a normal routine and I barely feel anything in my knee. From time to time, I twist awkwardly and can feel a bit of strain but nothing painful. My surgeon said that my knee will probably feel different until a year post op. Most of my muscle tone is back and flexibility is almost back to normal. As for Leeo's question - my hamstring feels totally normal and I'm lifting the same weights I did prior to my injury. The only difference I can still really see is in my calf... it's a bit small despite lifting heavy weights, so I'm working hard on getting it back!

One thing I will say is that running on concrete gets my knee pretty flared up. If I run a fast 5km for example, it's sore for a day. My PT said that as long as the pain isn't at an alarming level and decreases within a day, it is normal. So, I've been a bit more careful about cross-training (i.e. switch from running to biking and swimming).

Lastly, I'm doing sprint workouts, jumping (both one and two legged), and I'm starting to integrate lateral movement into my workouts.

GREAT NEWS: My surgeon said I can return to sport on Oct. 20th (6 months). It will be gradual, but I can start practicing with my team :)

@ Julia: I haven't had any scar tissue break down at all. I was getting ultrasound on my scars for a while at PT. They told me it breaks down scar tissue. My scars are now pretty smooth and not that noticeable. I'll let you know if anything changes.

@ Michelle: I'm really glad that this blog is helping anyone going through the same situation as me. As athletes we can relate to that intense need to get back (something my parents don't understand... they think I'm crazy to go back on the field). I'm sorry to hear that you are injured, but the recovery flies by. You seem very competitive like me, so take this as a challenge. All great athletes get injured and it's how they bounce back that makes them true athletes! I've learned so much about sports, injuries, and proper work outs through this whole experience and I think I'm going to be a better player on the other side! Good luck with everything and let me know if you have any questions!

Sep 28, 2010
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thanks!
by: michelle

Hi, I just wanted to say thank for for keeping this up. I just tore my ACL and PCL last week playing soccer. It seems that you were in a similar situation that I am, soccer is basically my whole life. I'm in high school playing on varsity and have been playing club soccer since third grade. I find out my surgery date in a few days and I'm very nervous, but mostly extremely upset, shocked, and frustrated at the fact that I won't be able to play for quite a while. When I found out, I was absolutely devestated but reading this has given me hope and eased my nerves a little so THANK YOU:) glad to hear you're recovering well!

Aug 19, 2010
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scar tissue
by: Julia

tina,
i had acl and a meniscus repair nov 4th. i am now playing soccer again but my scar tisue is breaking up so i was wondering if that has happended to you yet? and well i was only 13 so i recovered fast.

Jul 23, 2010
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hamstring?
by: leeo

Tina, Do you feel any weakness of your hamstring strength? Would you mind email you doctor ask: whether he use both gracilis and semitendinosus tendons or just one of them.

thanks a lot

leeo

Jul 22, 2010
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Thanks!
by: Anonymous

Thanks for the info! I think if Im given the option i will opt for the nerve block. Glad to hear your doing well.

Jul 22, 2010
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What I know...
by: Tina S

Hi Guys,

I'm going to try to answer questions to the best of my ability... but just remember that you should listen to what your OS and PT say because I'm just trying to repeat what I heard from mine.

@ Leoo: Sorry for the delayed response. I emailed my surgeon and I got a double-bundle repair. Apparently it's more common today and it's been shown to increase stability in the knee.

@ Rowen: Post your questions on here so everyone cn see our conversation. You never know who is going through the same information and could benefit :)

@ Anonymous: I did get a nerve block. It's nothing to be scared of. When I saw the needle I freaked out a little inside... but honestly - didn't feel a thing. First, I was given some kind of gas before that made me feel light headed and happy. Then, you get a local anesthetic where they give you the needle. I'm a science grad student, so I asked if I could watch on the ultrasound machine as they did it and they put the screen facing me. It's really cool, they guide the needle in and when they see it's close to the nerve they give a little squirt haha. Soon after I was put to sleep. When I woke up, my leg was completely numb and it remained that way until I woke up the next day. I hope that helps!

Keep me posted on how you guys are all doing! My friend had his surgery last Monday and is doing great! He's already walking around his apartment and everything :) Also, I went for my first run last Sunday on the treadmill. It was really short and only at 6MPH but it felt good. I saw my PT this morning and we did some straight running on the track and she said my form looked good. So, now I'm starting to increase duration and in 2 weeks I can start doing intervals :)

Cheers!

Jul 21, 2010
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nerve bloc
by: Anonymous

Did you have a nerve bloc for ur surgery?? thats what i think im most nervous about. I tore my ACL like 3 weeks ago playing basketball and am having my surgery in August.

Jul 13, 2010
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???????
by: rowen

damn this thing doesnt aint going my way.heres my e-mail address if u get this messg e-mail me i would love to ask you a couple of questions.
thanx alot.

Jul 13, 2010
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??????
by: Rowen

hey there tina

i posted a comment but i dont even think it got posted.im going for my acl surgery soon wondered if you can give me your e-mail address so i can ask you a couple of questions dats if you dont mind


thanx

Jul 12, 2010
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double band
by: leeo

Tina, would you please help me with this question?

I read about the I read about the double strand technique. Did you have double Strand for you ACL or not?

Jul 12, 2010
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What makes good athletes...
by: Tina S

Hi Rowen M,

I'm sorry to hear your news. I have been playing soccer at a high level since I was 12 so I know what it feels like to have to tell your club that you can't play for a while. Soccer is my life... I usually play at least 5 times a week! So, having that taken away was definitely hard.

It's almost been 3 months for me, and I'm already running and feeling great. It's so hard to not play soccer but I've had a few things that I keep in mind when I'm tempted to go against my PT and OS... firstly, I know a girl who tore her ACL, did rehab for the recommended 6 months, returned to soccer, and tore it again in 3 months. She got the hamstring graft from her other leg for her second surgery. Case in point - I don't want that to happen. The other thing that sticks with me is seeing all of my friends who still play at a high level and have come back from an ACL injury. I know it seems long... but 6 months of not playing beats never playing again. Plus, I think that this injury is proving just how much I love the game. Although I can't play, I still show up to games and lend my lungs to help my team on. I'm still really involved with my teams and they have promised a celebration when I score my next goal (I'm a striker!).

Anyways, my point is... hang in there. The doctor stuff is a pain in the ass, but once you get on the recovery side - it's all on you. You work hard (without over doing it) and you get rewarded by seeing yourself progress faster than expected. You'll return faster than you think and from what I hear, your new ACL should actually be stronger!

Feel free to post as many questions as you have on here. I think it's better to discuss questions in the open so others can read and perhaps benefit.

Good luck and stay positive!

Cheers!

Jul 12, 2010
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: (
by: Rowen M

Hey Tina

How you doing.hope you well.damn i hear these stories about the acl surgery and the recovery time i jus go into depression lol.

dis is my story i play club football but i tore my acl 3yrz ago playing indoor soccer and i never did anything about it.to cut a long story short after 3yrz of continous playing and injury i finally got injured real real bad and had to see the doc.now im due to have the implant.

im not the type for doc's and shit i cant stand bad news and not playing football for a while again.how did you cope with it??

oh and pls,give me your email address so we can chat about this doctor doctor stuff.

Jun 30, 2010
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Good Luck
by: Tina S

Hey Leeo,

I'm glad to help in any way. You can just post your questions on here so anyone in a similar situation can also read our conversation back and forth. I'm sure it'd be helpful to someone :)

Just a quick update too... I saw the surgeon again and he said I can start running again at the 3 month mark (July 20th!!). Can't wait!!!

Cheers!

Jun 30, 2010
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double strand
by: Anonymous

Tina,

I read about the I read about the double strand technique. Did you have double Strand for you ACL/

Jun 29, 2010
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thanks for the reply
by: leeo

Tina, thank you very much for your reply, it is very helpful. Do you mind telling me your email so that I could send you email whenever i got a question.
Thanks again
leeo

Jun 29, 2010
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Hamstring Graft
by: Tina S

Hi Leeo,

I'm sorry to hear that you are in a similar situation. As difficult as it was for me to deal with the news of such a devastating injury, I also realized how common this injury is among athletes... most of whom make full recoveries to their sport.

I actually got a hamstring graft. When I was going through the whole process, I did an absurd amount of reading on both the hamstring and patellar graft. From what I see, there are both doctors and patients that strongly support one or the other. Likewise, there are also many people that believe that the graft itself doesn't matter as much as how good your surgeon is (i.e. a good surgeon will do great regardless of the graft).

The rational from my surgeon (whom I questioned relentlessly) was that the hamstring was best for my body type and choice of sport. I'm 5'7 130lbs and my surgeon described my weight distribution as "smaller build up top, but very muscular bottom", which I guess is typical for a sprinter. Contrast this to a male football player who probably has more weight up top. In addition, I play soccer (and a bit of volleyball and long distance running), which doesn't involve repetitive hits/tackles to my knees. My understanding is that the patellar graft is stronger but can have more long term problems like arthritis. So, the hamstring was what he considered the best option. I have friends that know other knee surgeons who agreed with this rationale. I hope that helps.

Let me know if you have any other questions. I'd be happy to answer :) Good luck with your decision!

Cheers!

Jun 28, 2010
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KEEP IT UP
by: leeo

Tina, what kind of graft you have for you ACL surgery: Hamstring or patellar? I am actually in a very similar situation as you did.

thanks a lot

Jun 14, 2010
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8 weeks!
by: Tina S

Wow, I can't believe it has been 8 weeks since the surgery! Since the last time I wrote, I saw the surgeon who checked my scars and range of motion. At 3 weeks I could straighten to about 5 degrees and bend to about 100 degrees. I had quite a bit of swelling and bruising still, which I'm told can fluctuate between patients.

Since then, I was doing quite a bit of muscle stimulation and massages/icing to get the swelling down at physiotherapy. I then got into pushing the range of motion, which admittedly was a bit painful.

Now, I have full range of motion and am back full time on a stationary bike. I'm gradually getting back into weights too. I'm doing squats and lunges again with only slight discomfort in my knee. I'm starting to balance all my weight on one leg and throw a ball back and forth with someone. Ahhh it feels so good to be active again!!! Now, I'm down to 1 physiotherapy session a week and working out on my own.

I will be seeing my surgeon again this Wednesday for a check up. I know I still have time to wait - but I feel like I'm ready to start running again.

If there's anyone reading this who would like to share their recovery time line with me, I'd like to know how long it took people to run again. What about jumping and lateral movement?

Cheers!

May 07, 2010
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Update!
by: Tina S

Hello All,

So, it has been 2 and a half weeks since I got the surgery. I'm totally off crutches and am walking pretty long distances comfortably (>1 km at a time; returned to work). The scarring looks pretty clean and my physiotherapist thinks that they will totally disappear! I'm also going up stairs easily but going down is a little tough. I'm very close to being able to ride a stationary bike (still doing 3/4 revolutions).

The pain is totally gone. My calf gets a little tight after a long day, so I've been doing a lot of stretching on my own. Another thing I noticed is that my quad on my left knee (the one I had surgery on) is significantly smaller than my right knee! It's actually unbelievable! At physio, we've been doing a lot of muscle stimulation, and next week I will exercising on my own. I've also been getting ultrasound on my knee to break down scar tissue. The swelling has reduced dramatically over the past 3 days, but still icing regularly.

I've been talking to my PT (who is awesome!) and she told me that it's tempting to rush muscle building, but, if you push too hard too fast, you'll compensate with different muscles in your leg. This could ultimately lead to problems with balance or even cause me to have different injuries when I return to sport. So, I'm sticking to the basic exercises that I have right now. It's emotionally painful to be so inactive... but if it means playing soccer sooner, then I guess I'll just have to be patient.

Next week, I'm down to 2 PT sessions a week. I can bend my knee well past 90 degrees now, and I can straighten to about 10 degrees. So, working on getting my range of motion back and walking normally.

Okay, that's all for now. I'll write again after I see my surgeon next week!

Cheers!

Apr 29, 2010
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First Week
by: Tina S

Hi Again,

I had my surgery on Tuesday April 20th, so it's been just over a week. The surgery itself went well - my surgeon said he was happy with the graft he got and that everything was successful. I went into the surgery at about 10:30am and woke up at 1pm. I saw my family, had a nap, and was home at about 4pm. It was all really fast. I had a nerve block so my leg was really numb for the first day. Also, I was really happy because I had no side effects (i.e. wasn't sick) from the general anesthesia.

After the nerve block wore off the next day, I did feel some pain and discomfort... but luckily, not enough to need heavy pain killers. The first 2 days I didn't get up much, but when I did, I could bear my full weight on my leg (with crutches).

After 5 days, I took off my bandages and got to see the damage. My calf was super bruised and tight. I started getting pain in my calf and ankle over the weekend, which was actually worse than any pain I had in my knee. I saw the physiotherapist last Monday and she said it was normal for the blood to pool downward and gave me a (very painful!) massage. It seemed to help a lot. My second session yesterday consisted of muscle stimulation and I got hooked up to a machine that reduces swelling. I got cleared to start on the stationary bike and I have my third session tomorrow.

Now, I'm down to 1 crutch that I only use when I have been sitting for a long time (> 1 hour). I haven't walked more than 0.5 km without crutches though (don't want to overdo it). I will continue physio 3 times a week until I see the surgeon again on May 13th. Usually you see him again a bit sooner but he's out of town.

Anyways, I think that's all for now. Thanks again to everyone for your comments. I have a couple more questions:

- How long did it take to get close to full range of motion back?
- How long did it take for you to walk without a limp?
- How long did it take to run again?

Cheers!

Apr 26, 2010
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ACL 4 1/2 months post-op
by: LC

Hey Tina,
I hope you are doing well and your recovery is progressing. I am a soccer player too. I have been playing since I was a child also.
I tore my right ACL Nov. 1, 2009 and had surgery Dec. 9 (allograft). I am doing well. I still have some discomfort and I’m surely not 100% yet. It sounds like you are anxious to get back to soccer. That is understandable. My advice is to not try to do too much too fast. I did a lot of reading while going through this and the most complications occur when people try to push themselves too hard and the graft is not properly healed yet. I am sure you have heard that too. This will definitely be a lesson in patience. It feels like it takes forever to get better because it is such a long process.
I do the elliptical and the exercise bike for rehab. I think that I am probably being Too careful still because I am terrified of re-injury. Just know that it does get better and you will be playing soccer again, but don’t rush it. Just do what your doctor and PT tell you to even if you feel like you can do more.
Hope this helps you some. Take care and good luck!

Apr 02, 2010
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Surgery Date
by: Tina S

Hey Guys,

Thanks for your words of encouragement. It seems like it has been forever since I've kicked a soccer ball! I'm ready to get this over with already!!! I was originally scheduled to have surgery on May 18th, but I got a call and it got moved up to April 20th :) Looks like I might catch the later half of my women's intramural league (according to my surgeon). I think that will be a perfect way to ease myself back into soccer since it's a more recreational league. Try-outs for the team I played for when I injured myself will be in January... so hopefully I'll be in good shape by then.

So, I guess my next post will be post-surgery! I'll try to keep frequent updates for those reading and wanting to know what the experience is like.

If anyone is reading this and is back to sport after their surgery, can you let me know how your first game back was? Were you scared/hesitant? How long did it take for you to go 100% again? Thanks!

Cheers!

Mar 22, 2010
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GOOD TURNOUT
by: D-boy

Sounds like you are doing really good. I am 3 months Post Op already and starting to walk around for abt a mile or two a day. I had an allograft put in due to acl tear and meniscus tear also. Right now, I am doing some jogging and light lifting with my right knee. Don't worry, I was in the same position as you a few months ago and I know its tragic news but you will get through it. All i can say is follow what your therapist and doctor says and you will be playing soccer in no time.

D-Boy
HONOLULU, HI

Mar 17, 2010
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My ACL surgery
by: Philip

I know exactly how you feel. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I tore mine and had the surgery December 30, two days before New Year's.

Mar 15, 2010
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Update
by: Tina S

Hello again,

Since my last message I've had a lot of progress! The pain in my knee was practically gone after 2 weeks and I've been working out pretty hard on the bike. With the minor restrictions I have on weight training from my physiotherapist, my work outs have not decreased in intensity and my legs are feeling strong. Apart from missing so many soccer and volleyball games, I've kept a positive attitude and am focused on doing everything I can to make my recover as fast and as smooth as possible.

Tomorrow night I get my MRI and the following week I will book my surgery. I met my surgeon last week and he was very nice. I looked him up online and he has great reviews from his patients (most had the same surgery as I will get). He does hamstring grafts and we talked about the pros and cons - I think I'm comfortable with this decision as I've found arguments for all grafts being successful.

If anyone reading this is going through a similar situation, all I can say is hang in there. It's devastating news at first, but keeping a positive mind set will keep you focused on staying strong (mentally and physically) and will ultimately help your surgery. One thing that I've come to realize is that I know a lot of people who have gone through this entire ordeal, and they have returned to their sport 100% with no pain or fear.

And hey, if you still don't feel better... at least you aren't missing the World Cup this year because of a ruptured Achilles tendon... poor Beckham.

Cheers!

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