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Thermal Shrinkage for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Repair

The ACL is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that stabilizes the knee. Injuries to the ACL are very common—especially among athletes. Most often, the injury occurs when the knee is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This can stretch or tear the ligament, much like the fibers of a rope coming apart. You may have pain and swelling and feel like your knee “gives out.” A treatment called thermal shrinkage can help repair the ACL. 

Thermal Shrinkage Therapy

Heating parts of the ACL causes them to shrink. This tightens the ligament and allows it to better stabilize the joint. Thermal shrinkage is done during an arthroscopic procedure. A long, thin lighted tube called an arthroscope is used to see and operate inside the knee.

  • Before the Procedure: Follow your surgeon’s instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. You may need to stop eating and drinking after midnight before the procedure. When you arrive at the hospital or surgery center, you will change into a hospital gown. You will be given medication to relax you. You may be partially awake or completely asleep during the procedure.

  • During the Procedure: Small incisions are made around your knee. The arthroscope and surgical instruments are placed through these incisions. Magnified images of your knee joint appear on a monitor. To perform thermal shrinkage, the surgeon inserts a probe into the joint. This probe heats specific parts of the ACL. When these parts cool, they shrink, causing them to tighten and better hold the joint in place.

  • After the Procedure: You will go home the day of the procedure or stay 1 night(s). You will be given a rehabilitation program of exercises and physical therapy to strengthen your knee. This program may continue for 3–6 months.

Risks and Complications of Thermal Shrinkage Include:

  • Infection

  • Nerve damage

  • Failure to tighten the ACL

  • Restretching or retearing of the ACL

  • Limitation in range of motion

Call Your Doctor If:

  • You have increasing pain or swelling

  • You have decreasing sensitivity or movement in your knee

  • You have a fever over 101°F or chills

Online Medical Reviewer: Barrus, Bryan, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Mitchell, Bryan Sean, MD
Last Review Date: 2/27/2012
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.