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Physical therapist explains Hendon Hooker’s ACL recovery process

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) takes a break on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Martin, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 65-24. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is suffering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. A local physical therapist explains the process athletes have to do just to move forward after one of the most devastating injuries in sports.

Tennessee fans are devastated after learning that Hooker will not return for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL during the Vols’ game against South Carolina.

“It’s within the knee,” says Dr. Michael Hoag with OrthoKnox. “It just ruptures in two and now it’s completely lost its ability to stabilize the knee.”

One of the worst parts? There’s no proven way to prevent it.

“There’s really no known way to increase the strength or the size of the ACL,” Hoag says.

The video shows the moment Hooker’s knee hits the ground. It’s a moment Hoag believes was likely full of immense physical pain.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) scrambles out of the pocket during the second half of the team’s NCAA college football game against South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

“When it first ruptures, you’re going to have a sudden and severe jolt of pain,” Hoag told WATE. “Usually people will calm down within 30 seconds and the pain will subside significantly assuming there’s no additional injury at that time.”

Whatever relief may have come moments after Hooker’s injury, Hoag says it was probably short-lived.

“Pain will then usually start to increase hours later because of the swelling that develops within the knee.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, athletes usually undergo ACL reconstruction. It’s a surgery where the torn ligament is removed and replaced with a band of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Once the surgery is complete, athletes usually turn to physical therapy.

“The first few days we’re really going to emphasize reducing the swelling,” Hoag says. “We want to regain that muscle contraction, especially in the quadricep muscle, and we’re going to start working on motion.”

The good news is while an athlete’s lower body heals, other parts of the body, like the core and arms, can be exercised normally.

“As soon as he’s feeling well, he can progress into those other conditioning activities and strengthening activities.”

Michael Hoag, OrthoKnox

When asked about the odds of this being a career-ending injury, Hoag says sports medicine has come a long way. According to Hoag, several years ago this could have ended an athlete’s career, but times have changed.

He says medical staff members probably expect Hooker to recover within nine months.