A.C.L. Injury Common Cause of Long-Term Disability in Athletes

Founding Partner of DarrasLaw Offers Insights on the Importance of Individual Disability Policies as the Best Way to Protect Financial Futures of Star Athletes

According to a recent article in the New York Times, tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (A.C.L.) sideline more athletes for longer periods of time than almost any other acute injury. Seasons, even careers, end when the A.C.L. is torn. This one ligament provides 90% of the leg's stability and is essential to dynamic movement. (Why A.C.L. Injuries Sideline So Many Athletes, August 28, 2013)

It's the reason that American ski racer Lindsey Vonn is still out after tearing her A.C.L. last winter and that Tom Brady,Tiger Woods, Chipper Jones, and Michael Redd all faced long-term sideline rehab after tearing theirs.

Unfortunately, once the A.C.L. is torn, the knee will never be the same, even after reconstructive surgery. According to the New York Times, A.C.L. reconstruction provides patients with a "well-functioning knee, but not the knee they once had". It can also cause early-onset arthritis and knee problems later in life.

Recent studies completed at Boston Children's Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence help to explain why a torn A.C.L. is so difficult to treat. Almost alone among other ligaments, the A.C.L. doesn't heal itself. Unlike other ligaments in the knee that fix themselves after an injury, the A.C.L. does not, even after doctors perform initial repairs to help the healing process.

"This is crucial for any athlete to understand, but especially those athletes who depend on their physical capabilities for a living. One torn A.C.L. could mean the end of your career and it's important you have a back-up plan financially. I can't stress enough how important disability insurance is to a professional athlete. Even if you do recover in 8-12 months, the team's workers'  compensation or short-term policy will only carry you so far. Short-term disability insurance is needed during the recovery process," says Frank N. Darras, disability injury attorney to the pros.

Long-term disability policies have longer waiting periods than short-term policies. They usually range from 30 to 720 days, although 90 days is the most common. For an athlete with a torn A.C.L., 3 months is far too long to go without an income. A short-term disability policy will typically start paying out benefits in 14 days or less.

Professional athletes should really look into what is covered under their team's plan and what isn't. It may be that a short-term injury is covered and short-term disability insurance is unnecessary. However, long-term disability is crucial since no team will cover their athletes forever.

"Eventually, the insurance you receive from the team will run out and they will move on to the next generation of players. Yet, an injury like a torn A.C.L. could and most likely will give you troubles the rest of your life. Make sure you protect yourself by having a long-term disability plan in place," says Darras.