Published on January 29, 2014 | by Danny Butterwick


The painful truth about footballing injuries

UAL student Danny Butterwick talks about the knee injury he sustained while playing football. He remembers the traumas and the pain, and describes how the procedures of his treatment might have been if he were a professional footballer like Theo Walcott, who had a similar injury early in the New Year. 

Danny Butterwick's cruciate ligament injury

Danny Butterwick’s cruciate ligament injury [Danny Butterwick]

As with Walcott, and most cruciate injuries, I damaged my knee in the most routine of football situations. No tackles, no fouls, just a bad step, and the pain was instant.  It felt as though my knee had, for a split second, dislocated.

The swelling followed and I found myself scarcely able to put weight on my leg.

This is perhaps where the similarity with Walcott ends as, rather than being stretchered off and taken to hospital, I was forced to hobble to the changing room and drive myself home.

After three weeks of walking with a heavy limp I managed to convince my doctor (after three visits) that he should send me for an MRI scan, which confirmed that I had torn my anterior cruciate ligament.  Strangely enough I remember on my first visit he wiggled my knee and said: “Well, it’s definitely not your cruciate.”


What makes a cruciate injury such a pain in the… erm, knee, is the fact that there is no individual blood supply to the ligament itself so there is no chance of self-healing such as with a hamstring or calf tear so surgery is essential for those of us who, at 25, have still not given up on the footballing dream.

This means reconstructing the ligament entirely.  Here’s where the surgical procedure has evolved over the years.  Previously, surgeons were inclined to use a synthetic ligament, however this often stretched over time and sometimes caused further complications.

These days the most common type of surgery, and the one that was used on me, uses a graft from the patient’s own body which is attached between the patella (knee cap) and tibia (shin) bones and requires the removal of some bone at both ends of the graft.

Now, while Walcott and other professional footballers are likely to wake up in the comfort of a private hospital and be allowed to drift in and out of consciousness, the NHS version of the operation offers no such luxuries.


I was in for the surgery at 9am and out by 2pm.

However, I was given a stale tuna sandwich for which I am eternally grateful. Once the local anaesthetic began to wear off, the pain was excruciating.  Walking was near on impossible and if I lifted my leg up I could literally feel the fluid rushing towards my thigh.

After a month of being confined to the couch, walking began to look less of an impossibility and I was able to visit my physiotherapist. Walcott will start his rehab instantly with the very best of care with people such as physiotherapist Colin Lewin around him to make sure things go smoothly.

I, on the other hand, walked into my first rehabilitation appointment only to find my physiotherapist wearing the wrong name tag and picture.  Needless to say I swiftly requested to see someone more senior, or at the very least, more capable of remembering their own name.

The first six weeks of recovery from surgery are the most important.  This is where the graft begins latch itself to the body and strengthen the tear.  It is genuinely believed that any complications that arise after surgery usually do so within the first two months.


Because of this, I was determined to have the best care available to me and put in every effort to come back as strong as possible. After Theo begins to walk without crutches, he will instantly begin exercises that will aid him later in his recovery.

Recovering as much range of movement in the knee as possible, as early as possible, is important as scar tissue can cause complications and stiffness.  Then it’s a case of icing the knee as much as possible and building up the glutes, hamstrings and quads, which swiftly turn to jelly after a month of inactivity.

I am now at almost five months and I still have a fair bit of pain in the knee but when you consider the location of the ligament and what the surgeons must have done to get there, it seems fairly understandable.  The ligament lies in the middle of the knee, underneath the knee cap.

So, whilst I wish Theo Walcott all the best in his inevitable recovery, I can’t help feeling a little jealous that his career will more successful than mine.  He will most likely go on to finally fulfil his dream of playing in a World Cup, albeit belatedly.

I, on the other hand, will be destined for a life of knee supports, stiffness and staving off arthritis.  Ah, the perks of being a Sunday league footballer!


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