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Many patients who undergo knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear the surgical graft. Can a precise stem-cell injection under advanced-imaging guidance help such postoperative tears? This is the story of a college soccer player who found himself in that situation.

ACL surgery is very common—about 250,000 to 300,000 such surgeries are performed each year. Nearly every athlete who tears the ACL ligament and can’t quickly return to play gets the surgery. The surgical procedure tears out the natural ligament and inserts a tendon into drilled tunnels. Most patients don’t realize that there are problems with the surgically replaced ACLs. The muscle the tendon graft is taken from never fully recovers its strength. In addition, the operated knee never regains position sense to guide normal landing. Finally, few patients ever return to their prior level of sports participation, and two-thirds of young patients who undergo ACL surgery develop osteoarthritis in their knee by the time they’re 30.

A precise stem-cell injection offers a non-surgical alternative, but what if the patient already has a reconstructed artificial ligament and then tears that ligament?

A recent case involving a 21-year-old college soccer player indicates that stem-cell injections can heal such postoperative injuries. The patient first tore his ACL in 2012 and underwent surgical reconstruction with his own patellar tendon. He returned to playing soccer, and in 2013 he tore the grafted ACL. He then underwent a two-stage ACL reconstruction in 2014, this time using his Achilles tendon as the ACL graft. He returned to soccer practice in 2015 and promptly tore the new ACL graft. After two ACL reconstruction surgeries there simply was no place left to drill to safely install a third ligament. The patient sought help from his own stem cells.

In May 2015, his second partially torn ACL graft was injected with his own stem cells using advanced imaging in a same-day Regenexx-ACL procedure. An examination of his knee six weeks after the injection showed that the ACL was very solid and felt as tight as his normal ACL. Soon, the patient’s doctors will determine whether he needs a second stem-cell injection.

“ACL Surgery Failure” first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.