What is the ACL?
The anterior cruciate ligament, most often referred to as the ACL, is one of four major ligaments that stabilizes the knee joint. A ligament is a tough band of fibrous tissue, similar to a rope, which connects the bones together at a joint.
The ACL prevents the lower bone (tibia) from sliding forward too much and stabilizes the knee to allow cutting, twisting and jumping sports.
How can the ACL tear?
The most common mechanism that tears the ACL is the combination of a sudden stopping motion on the leg while quickly twisting on the knee. ACLs can also tear from contact injuries, which force the knee into an abnormal position.
What are the signs that an ACL is torn?
When the ACL tears, the person feels the knee go out of joint and often hears or feels a “pop.” If he or she tries to stand on the leg, the knee may feel unstable and give out. The knee usually swells a great deal immediately (within two hours). Over the next several hours, pain often increases and it becomes difficult to walk.
If a tear is suspected, immediately apply ice and gentle compression until the injury can be evaluated by a professional. The knee should be evaluated by a doctor to see which ligaments are torn and to be sure other structures such as tendons, arteries, nerves, etc. have not been injured. X-rays are taken to rule out a fracture. Sometimes an MRI is needed, but usually the diagnosis can be made by physical examination.
If no structure other than the ACL is injured, the knee usually regains its range of motion and is painless after 6-8 weeks. The knee may feel normal; however, it can be a “trick knee,” meaning it can give way or be unstable, leading way to further and more serious injury if left untreated.
Some ACL injuries may not require surgery; most often when the patient is over forty years old and relatively inactive in sports. Those younger than thirty years old, regardless of activity level, are recommended to have surgery. Your provider at the Bone and Joint Center will work with you to determine the best options for ACL injury recovery depending on your lifestyle.
Treatment Options for a Torn ACL
The experts at the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center Bone and Joint Center are experienced in diagnosing, treating and repairing ACL injuries. Our orthopedic physicians work closely with a multidisciplinary team to ensure a smooth and speedy recovery, from the time of diagnosis through your recovery period.