How an ACL tear ended two key Vol athletes’ seasons

Starting quarterback Hendon Hooker and starting point guard Zakai Zeigler were both lost for the season after suffering ACL tears.
A 30-year Orthopaedic Surgeon breaks down ACL injuries.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 7:46 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 7:49 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Dr. Gregory Mathien worked at the Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic for more than 30 years, and in that timeframe, he has worked on countless cases involving a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL.

”The primary purpose of your anterior cruciate ligament is to prevent your tibia, or your shin bone, from sliding out from under your femur and preventing this type of movement,” said Mathien.

Mathien broke down the ligament and injuries after Tennessee Basketball lost starting point guard Zakai Zeigler to a season-ending knee injury Tuesday.

Zeigler’s injury came just months after the Tennessee Football team lost starting quarterback, and Heisman hopeful, Hendon Hooker, to a season-ending ACL tear of his own.

Mathien could not discuss the two athletes’ injuries directly but outlined how critical of an injury an ACL tear is and the timeline to recover.

”A tear of this ligament you have abnormal motion which leads to clinical instability of the knee,” said Mathien.

He said ACL tears are becoming more common.

As youth sports grow and more kids participate, the frequency of the injury increases.

An ACL tear is almost always noncontact, it happens in sports where speeding up and slowing down is common and change of direction happens often, like football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby.

”The most common mechanism of injury of an ACL is a noncontact deceleration, change of direction injury,” said Mathien, holding a replica of the knee.

This type of knee injury can occur at any time, but is more common to occur in women and at a rate of 4 to 6 times more often in the sports of basketball and soccer.

While it can happen at any age, that is a determining factor in how to approach the repair.

”Return to sport in that scenario is probably no less than six months for most highly competitive athletes. Longer than that on the order of eight or nine months, maybe even a year if they have other injuries than that,” said Mathien.

In patients who are maybe older, and do not participate in many movements, surgery would look different if it is even performed at all.

For many, however, surgery is the only option.

”So you won’t strengthen the ACL, that’s God-given and intrinsic,” said Mathien. “Unfortunately, there’s just intrinsic risk to those sports.”

An ACL injury is not a career-ender, but it’s one an athlete accepts as a risk of competition.