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Returning To The Mats After My ACL Tear

July 04, 2022 11 min read

Hi I’m Luke The owner of Anaconda Fightwear. And some time ago I ripped my knee apart doing Jiu Jitsu.

I wanted to write this to share my story for anybody who experiences a bad sports injury.

This isn’t medical advice, but my own story and personal experience.

However I learned so much about dealing with a sports injury on that challenging journey, and feel compelled to share it to try and help anybody who is struggling through what I went through.

If you’re an athlete, you’ll understand how important sport is to a healthy body and state of mind.

I went from being at my absolute physical peak, and winning gold medals at competitions on the mat.. to having to get my girlfriend to help me hop to the bathroom just to take a piss.

I can’t tell you how low and powerless I felt at that point in time.

And to be clear, I realise people go through worse but when it happens to you and you go from fit and healthy to that so quickly.

It hits you hard.

It all started just as I’d arrived to do a training camp in Thailand..

It had been my dream to go there and really focus on Jiu Jitsu for a long time.

It was impossible for a while because of covid, but in September 2021 I was finally able to fly out there.

It felt like a dream come true. I’d wake up every morning and walk out in the sunshine before heading to class to get some hard rounds of rolling in.

Afterwards I’d hit the beach and work on our brand.

But this lifestyle was short-lived.

I was at training one day and was training with the Thai National team.

It was so hot that day you would not believe it. 

Anyway, we got a few rounds in after class and just before I finished up one of the Thai guys approached me for a round.

We were doing stand up wrestling and then it happened.

I don’t know what kind of takedown it was.. Something crazy.. but I just remember heading to the ground and feeling my knee tear apart with mine and the other guys weight bearing on it.

I immediately knew there was a big problem.

I screamed at the top of my lungs as I felt my knee pop and snap.

I hit the ground with my fist in rage..

I knew this was bad. It would certainly mean time off the mats.

I had no idea just how bad it was..

When I stood up I immediately fell over as my knee was completely unable to bear my weight.

It was painful, but I was used to pain from years of martial arts and exercise.

What was more painful was the emotional pain.

My dream of training the sport I loved in paradise had been shattered.

If you haven’t trained sports, you may think this is a bit dramatic.

But I’m telling you. Jiu Jitsu is what keeps me sane and the sport has transformed my life. I NEED it to blow off steam, keep my head right, and feel myself.

I still remember the moment contemplating how I was going to handle this.. and decided to accept what had happened.

Feeling anger or contempt about things you can’t change is really unhealthy.

I fought and struggled to get to the Doctors, my leg couldn’t bend at all.

The Doctor Told Me It Was A Complete ACL and MCL Rupture

I knew this was one of the worst Injuries an athlete could get. 

“There is no way this will heal on its own without medical intervention” - said the Doctor.

 

“We’ll need to drill through your knee and replace the Torn ACL. You won’t be able to train for a year, you won’t be able to walk for around 2 months”. 

I can’t tell you how hard that hit me. 

My full identity and life revolves around training and exercise.

I was used to feeling like a strong man who could take on anything.. 

And now here I was sitting in a wheelchair, facing an extremely serious surgery and unable to walk.

With a medical doctor telling me there was no hope of my body healing whatsoever.

That was probably the worst part. Feeling like I had no chance.

It was an extremely difficult, and challenging journey back home. I actually got food poisoning on the way as well.

So I was being pushed in a wheelchair around unable to walk and was being sick as well.

I arrived home and met the Surgeon who was examining me. 

He said there was a 3 month wait before they could operate on it, since they were so busy.

He said I’d better get ready and build my leg muscles with some pre-hab.. and there was no harm in trying to see if I was capable of overcoming things.

ACL Tear Lesson 1: Never Lose Hope

When you’re sitting in a wheelchair, the surgeon's words hit you hard. 

And the first guy I met had really worn me down by telling me I had no chance.

This taught me my first lesson when it comes to an ACL tear, MCL tear.. Or any medical situation you ever find yourself in..

You need to have a strong mindset. Don’t feel any regret or wish things were different.

ACL Tear Lesson 2: ALWAYS Get a 2nd opinion And Don’t Rush Big Decisions

Here we were again, back with a small glimmer of hope. 

If I had relied on the opinion of the 1st guy, I’d have made a decision that would have completely altered the course of my entire life.

Maybe the average person can’t recover on their own. 

But if you’re an athlete, chances are you're not the average person. And are likely fitter, healthier, more disciplined and mentally stronger than the average person.

Anyway, I started looking for physiotherapists and they all had massive long wait times.

So I tried going to the gym and doing some rehab on my own.

I had no idea what I was doing, my leg was clicking and shooting all kinds of sensations through my body.

It was so demoralizing. And I began to wish things had went differently. 

ACL Tear Lesson 3: ACCEPT What Has Happened To You

The worst thing you can do is wish things had went differently. I’m telling you this train of thought is toxic.

When you do this it completely disempowers you. The past is the past. You need to concentrate on how you're going to deal with things and be strong.

Accepting an injury, limitation or any reality in life is a crucial part of making a plan to overcome it.

That’s when I decided I was going to do something..

And fortunately I was able to get in contact with a Dutch Physiotherapist called Thomas Engbert AKA “TheInjuryfixer”.

Thomas was a godsend.

He gave me advice immediately and told me he could help.

I’ll tell you where you can find out exactly what we did together.

ACL Tear Lesson 4:Find The Proper Help

Thomas knew exactly what to do and it was almost the opposite of what a lot of people had told me.

Now, this is case by case. So Please, don’t take this is a blanket statement as every ACL injury is different. 

But for my case, he said it was super important to build the strength back up in my legs. Especially my Quads and hamstrings..

He said having strong legs would help make up for the lack of strength in my ACL.

ACL Tear Lesson 5: Find Perspective

It may seem so damn bad when you get a bad injury.. And it is.

But Thomas reminded me he has seen people with Back and Neck injuries who can’t get out their bed.

They can’t do a damn thing, so remember if you’ve busted your knee it could be a lot worse.

Thomas also gave me some extremely important advice.

ACL Tear Lesson 6:

“You Will Experience Ups And Downs On The Road To Recovery.”

This advice turned out to be so important, because that’s exactly what happened to me..

It was a bit like a stock graph.. With peaks and troughs..

When you’re making progress and then you trip up and tweak it, or perhaps it feels like you’re heading backwards.

It’s so important to keep a positive mindset.

Because it’s tough when you’re making progress and then you get hit with a blow..

But if you keep in mind that all you’re aiming for is higher lows.. Eventually you’ll get there. 

I seen Thomas 3 times per week to work on my legs and build my strength back up.

It was extremely difficult throughout that period of time.

There were so many times I had to tell people: “I can’t do that”.

Just simple things like lifting a box for one of my parents or going for a walk.

I had to get my girlfriend to lift shit for me and do all the manual stuff that I was used to taking care of.. 

There were times my self esteem was extremely low. 

But I kept going.. And slowly started to get better.

However I think it’s really important to understand your limits somewhat..

Anytime I asked Thomas if I could do this or that.. His advice was: 

ACL Tear Lesson 7: “Don’t Do Anything Stupid”

By that he meant, be careful man.

Don’t try and do Jiu Jitsu too early with an ACL tear or something like that, You CAN make things worse.

I know this because I’ve been there myself. 

If you’re smart you can get back to a decent level of fitness and Jiu Jitsu..

ACL Tear Lesson 8: Give Yourself Permission To Recover

Listen, if you’re a committed athlete, you’re going to want to train.

I found it very difficult being away to the gym, and sometimes showed up to watch class.

For me personally, it made me very sad. 

So I decided to stay away from Jiu Jitsu and focus on other things whilst I was recovering.

You need to decide what works best for you, but it’s important to fill that Jiu Jitsu time with something.

Never let yourself stew in sorrow. Which is what I did for 1 evening and I will never do it again.

Because it’s not necessary. You are in control of your mindset. Always look for the positives in your life. 

I showed up to train with Thomas 3 times per week, and we did some pretty grueling leg sessions.

I trained my upper body with weights in the gym as well to stay in peak physical condition. 

I did this for around 5 months solid. And trained my legs every single day during that period.

I couldn’t bend my damn knee at all for most of that time, and it was very difficult.

But I slowly made progress.

ACL Tear Lesson 9: Start Small And Build Slowly

I did the most basic leg exercises to begin with. 

It seemed hard to understand how I could possibly get back to fighting fitness with how weak I was.

But I stuck at it, and the effect of persistence and consistency started to work its magic. 

Slowly my knee regained strength and motion.

I started to gain the confidence to do normal things again.

That was probably the best part, seriously. When you’re leg gets busted up all you want to do is start using it normally again.

Your health is so damn important.

Anyway, it’s so important to start small and just have determination that you’re going to give it everything you’ve got.

If things don’t work out, then you’ll at least be ready to go into surgery strong and recover faster. Don’t get beat down by it all. 

I was fortunate enough to have Thomas guiding me through Rehab, and he pushed me past what I thought was possible.

I honestly don’t think I could’ve done what I did without him and we became extremely good friends.

Anyway, I stayed so persistent and focused on getting better.

ACL Tear Lesson 10: Return To Jiu Jitsu When You’re Ready

After 5 long months of being out completely.. I went back to Jiu Jitsu and started drilling with Thomas. 

At first I could barely make it through the warm-up.

I was absolutely terrified I would re-injure my knee (and still have that fear sometimes).

I was so picky about my training partner, seriously. You need someone you can trust.

ACL Tear Lesson 11: Wear A Knee Brace When You Train

The support of the knee brace is super important. And can help stop you from lacking stability or having it twist the wrong way.

And also it’s so important that people can see with their eyes that your knee is wrapped up.

Because It’s absolutely critical that nobody twists your knee on you.

And I found the knee brace extremely helpful for making people cautious of my knee injury without having to constantly tell them, or have to remind my coach what I could and could not do.

You really need to be cautious at this stage if you get there.

ACL Tear Lesson 12: Be So Firm With Training Partners And Coaches

This isn’t the time or place for manners, fear of judgement, or any form of social etiquette.

Tell people to watch your damn knee and remind them of it constantly.

Your ego will fight and scream at you about it.

Tell it to shut up and make people aware to be cautious so you don’t reinjure yourself.

There are few times in life when you SHOULD be that awkward person who gets things their way. When your health is involved, this is definitely one of those times.

People's feelings and opinions will heal a lot faster than if you reinjure yourself.

So just make sure you're careful when you get back into training, and take it slow.

I had to completely alter the way I did Jiu Jitsu.. Because I couldn’t risk going over my leg.

ACL Tear Lesson 13: Play Guard

When your knee is injured, your at a high risk of injury when you’re standing up because your weight can go over yourself.

I found it much better to play on my back.

And honestly, I’ve developed such a deadly triangle now you wouldn’t believe it. I am triangling EVERYBODY haha.

Anyway, you need to be careful about butterfly guard.

It puts a lot of weight on your knee, I really had to be careful with it and avoid it.

There have been a lot of times I made decisions that were making me lose the round to protect my knee.

ACL Tear Lesson 14: Your Knee Is More Important Than Winning The Round

I tapped in the most surprising situations. People were literally like wtf.

I’ve won multiple competitions, and I’m a very competitive guy. Tapping sometimes can be hard,

But when you end up in a single x-guard or something where your knee is at risk of getting twisted it is time to stop the round.

I let people pass instead of using a knee shield sometimes.

It absolutely sucks, but you need to prioritize your knees safety and recovery.

Which reminds me,

You're going to be rusty as hell when you get back on the mats.

Your confidence might be low, heck, it's been 9 months since I injured it and I’m still playing off my back.

But it’s better to be rolling at 75% of what you’re capable of than not rolling at all.

Take it from someone who’s been through it.

Know your limitations, and alter your game.

ACL Tear Lesson 15: There’s ALWAYS A Silver Lining

I’m still in the process of getting back to my peak.

But I know that I’ll get back to winning competitions, I’ve already came so far and been through the worst I think. 

My Jiu Jitsu has suffered a lot. 

But my Triangle game is on another level.

I am still avoiding stand-up until I feel 100% ready.

But it feels so good to be back on the mats. I feel myself again.

Life is a funny thing, sometimes you get thrown a curve-ball. 

It acts in mysterious ways. And sometimes you might think something awful has happened to you.. 

But every single difficulty I’ve faced in my life when I reflect on it I can find something positive. Even things that seemed so horrible at the time, produced good things for me. 

Maybe it’s a bit more time with your family, or a chance to spend time learning something new.

There will be something if you search for it.

If you are in a situation where you've had a bad knee injury and have any questions at all don't be afraid to reach out and ask a question.

I'll do my very best to give you the advice I can.

You can check Thomas out on Instagram @Theinjuryfixer


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