MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The different stages of recovering from a torn ACL with Portuguese basketball star Claudia Lomba Viana

Meet Claudia Lomba Viana, a 19-year-old basketball player that has represented Portugal at the FIBA World Championships and the FIBA U18 Women’s European Championships. However, her promising career has momentarily come to a halt due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL.)

The 5-foot-9 forward was playing against Myerscough U18 Women’s Team on December 3rd 2017 when, in the first quarter, she decided to attack the basket with a silky ‘euro-step.’ As she drove past a player and into another one, her right knee wasn’t quite ready for the impact of the landing.

“As I took my first step on my right knee, I was about to cross over to my left knee when I got pushed from my side into another girl defending me and felt a pop in my knee and a sharp pain,” Claudia explained.

The atmosphere was intense in the pavilion, filled with Myerscough supporters.

“I was tired and felt tired running. I felt my body was weak that day. The pavilion was cold, and I didn’t warm-up properly,” she said.

As it turned out, Claudia tore her ACL and her meniscus in her right knee. Although it is a common injury in basketball due to all the cutting, it is nonetheless a nightmare to all. According to USA Basketball, female basketball players are especially prone to this injury.

Claudia said: “My knee was swollen and too painful to walk on. I felt a throbbing pain and started crying, as I was scared to even think about what I had injured. I began to panic as the pain remained constant and I lost range of motion in my knee.”

After calming herself down, Claudia just felt numbness in her knee and knew immediately something was torn.

The Diagnosis

“I got my MRI results on January 19th 2018, where the doctor told me in order to play at a high level again, I would need surgery,” Claudia said.

“At first, I didn’t want to believe the doctor, until he showed me the scans and what exactly the procedure would be.”

Sadly, in this case, a meniscal repair/suture and an ACL reconstruction using a hamstring graft was needed. With a recovery of between eight and 12 months, her chances of getting selected for the upcoming European Championships were over.

Terrified that she would not be able to stand on her leg again, When Claudia realised how swollen it was, she became increasingly terrified that she would not be able to stand on her leg again. The operation took place on March 28th 2018 and she is now nine months post-operation.

The Surgery

The day of her surgery was one of mixed emotions for the 19-year-old. Although nervous, Claudia was excited that this day had finally arrived.

She explained: “After surgery, I was given a lot of pain medication that I can’t remember exactly what happened. Embarrassingly, I remember waking up in the recovery ward and asking the nurse if she could hold my hand.”

The worst part of being injured for the forward was not being able to complete her daily tasks. She couldn’t walk without crutches, bend her knee, sleep properly, shower by herself, run, jump or play basketball.

This was overwhelming and not only made her experience physically challenging, but mentally draining too.

The Recovery

“It’s a long recovery which mentally affects you,” Claudia said. “You lose a lot of muscle that you have to rebuild. I had a few breakdowns, thinking I wouldn’t recover 100% or wouldn’t be the same player again.

“I felt uncomfortable lying down with my leg elevated and was scared that I would move my knee in a bad position while sleeping.”

Claudia was on crutches for six to eight weeks and losing a lot of muscle implied that her knee felt weak and unstable after surgery, requiring a knee brace.

“The knee brace was physically uncomfortable. However, it gave me confidence to walk again and continue with my daily life.”

On a positive note, the number six believes this injury might have been a blessing in disguise as she has had time to reflect and analyse her game.

She said: “I’ve sat and watched my team trainings sessions and games, and I learn every day by simply observing players’ techniques and game visions. Even though this injury has been extremely tough both physically and mentally, I am grateful.”

This setback has also allowed Claudia to appreciate the smaller things that she hardly recognised before her injury. She used this time to focus on her personal development

“The injury has changed my mind-set,” Claudia said, “and perspective on my life and on basketball.”

The Rehab

Initially, Claudia did not have much range of motion and was told by doctors that it is normal as a meniscal repair needs time to heal.

She explained: “Once I was able to gain range of motion, I was able to move onto further exercises to build strength. I felt like a huge improvement when I was able to start running and jumping, as I felt that my strength training finally paid off.”

There was progress certainly, but there were always minor impediments along the way.

“I had a few setbacks with patellar tendon pain, but once the pain settled down I was able to take a big step forwards in my recovery,” Claudia said.

The fear of re-injury is high for any athlete after tearing an ACL and Claudia is no different. It has impacted the forward and she said she now overthinks and often freezes when trying new exercises or taking new steps throughout the recovery process. What once came naturally doesn’t anymore and she must now rebuild her confidence.

“My fear of re-injury has motivated me to put effort into my rehab and strengthen my knee to be stronger than it was before the injury,” Claudia said.

Behind the fear of re-injury, however, remains hope that she will return to action with the same, or possibly even greater, strength as before the injury happened.

Once Claudia passes the tests that determine whether she is ‘game ready,’ she will do a month of non-contact training, followed by a month of contact training. After that, depending on how confident she feels, Claudia will be able to play.

Lessons and effects

“Personally, I feel that this injury has majorly affected my life. It has changed my mindset and perspective,” Claudia said.

The injury has made Claudia focus on her health and well-being. Although there were ups and downs, Claudia explained that she’s grateful and continues to learn every day.

“I have added in change of direction, jump training, speed training, and resistance training. My target is to be game ready.”

Looking back

“When I first injured my knee,” Claudia said, “I started researching why this type of injury happens. I wanted to know what I had done wrong or where I went wrong.”

Claudia’s injury was centered around contact and not necessarily a bad pivot mechanism. Keeping up a strengthening program, practicing landing and pivoting techniques are a few of the ways to prevent such injuries from happening.

A healthy balanced diet and a consistent sleeping pattern contribute to this prevention as well.

Getting back

“I’m both excited and nervous to start properly training. I think it will be a huge mental factor in which I need to feel comfortable and confident in my knee and the rest will come naturally with practice,” she said.

Having completed strength tests for her long-awaited full return to the court, results showed a lack of strength in the right hamstring. This needs to be strengthened to equal the left.

The constant worry of re-injuring herself haunts the forward.

She said: “I feel that I need to continue with my non-contact training to feel more comfortable in certain movements.”

“Being supported by Loughborough University as an elite student-athlete has given me the opportunity to work with strength and conditioning coaches, a sports nutritionist, physiotherapists and sport psychologists, which have aided in my preparation both mentally and physically.”

Advice

“For players going through the same injury, I would just say to keep pushing and know that their recovery will be based on how much work they are willing to put in, as your only limit is you,” Claudia explained.

“I would suggest not putting a time limit on the recovery and look at it in terms of phases and steps to be accomplished.”

Claudia also noted that another important aspect to her recovery has been strengthening the muscles around her knee, as well as her core and hips. But, crucially, the injury has made her stronger and tougher, allowing her, too, to focus on different aspects.

She added: “As hard as it is having to sit out, it’s a year you can take to reflect, learn and grow”.

As Claudia says, any adversity does make you stronger, but the underlining factor is whether athletes with such injuries will make it back to their full potential.

Featured photograph/Claudia Lomba Viana