Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury – A Personal Journey

Niamh McLaughlin, one of our physiotherapists also plays football for her home nation, Ireland.  Earlier this year Niamh was selected to play for Ireland in the World University Games.  The team here at Newcastle Sports Injury Clinic offered lots of support and waved her off on her trip to China to take part in the tournament.

Unfortunately, despite Niamh’s skills as a footballer and knowledge of injury prevention, she was struck down by injury in the last game of the tournament.

Here, Niamh describes the cause of her injury.  Over the next weeks and months, she will share her journey through rehabilitation and recovery and hopefully her return to the football pitch…

“23 minutes into the final game at the World University Games Ireland were playing against our neighbours, Great Britain.  My team, Ireland, were losing by one goal to nil.  Despite this, the team remained positive as there was more than enough time left in the game to turn things around and make a difference to the final score.

I was watching the game from the reserves bench when I saw our right back fall with a nasty injury.  Within seconds I was responding to the call of, “Niamh, get ready”.

This was it, my opportunity to make a difference, I was determined that I was going on to score the equaliser and if possible the winning goal.  I had a point to prove and that is what I was going to do.

With my injury prevention knowledge, I know the importance of a good warm up, after ensuring I was in the best possible condition, I was confident going on.

The substitution was made, and I sprinted onto the pitch and took my position.    Great Britain had possession just short of the half way line, Ireland weren’t pressing high, so they were comfortable on the ball.  Their left back passed a square ball to their number 4 who had dropped deep, she had her back to me and didn’t see me coming.  I nipped in on her blindside and was able to plant my left foot across her body to shield the ball.

And then I heard it / felt it.  I didn’t remember any contact, twisting, or doing anything I wouldn’t have usually done. I blanked.  Within seconds, the team physiotherapist and doctor were at my side, trying their best to calm me down, which they eventually do.  The referee is ushering me off the pitch.  The game must go on.

At side of the pitch the physiotherapist carried out a few quick tests, I did a few squat jump and lateral jumps. It feels ok…the adrenaline still has me – good to go… I think… I hope.

Running back onto the pitch, I felt the instability in my left knee, I raised my hand as a signal, that’s it, the end of my game.  I know straight away, deep down, this is serious.

Everyone is trying to reassure me and not think the worst, but in truth I am just being realistic.  I am sure have damaged my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).anterior-cruciate-ligament-tear-achilles-tendon-related

Unfortunately for me I know the feeling, I have previously ruptured and re-torn the ACL in my right knee.  That injury was during the 2010/2011 season and I have been playing and training with no issues since.  Here’s hoping my left knee recovers as well as my right did.

As with any injury, the quicker it is diagnosed, and rehabilitation begins the quicker the healing process.  Thankfully, being on an international trip, I was able to get an MRI scan arranged quickly.

The day following my injury I was scanned and assessed by the medical team.  I didn’t have much swelling or even pain and I was able weight bare, however, I used crutches to prevent any further damage.  The MRI scan results confirmed that I have torn the ACL in my left knee.

An ACL injury can, in some cases result in retiring from your chosen sport, but this is not always the case.  With the right pre-habitation, surgery, rehabilitation and rest, it doesn’t have to be the end of my footballing career. I have recovered from this injury in the past and I will do it again.

For now, I am going to rest up and take the weight off my crutches and I will be sure to keep you all updated with my progress.”


Niamh McLaughlin – Newcastle Sports Injury Clinic Physiotherapist