A tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is often referred to as ACL injury.
Common ACL injuries often occur in sports that entail sudden jumping, changes in direction, or stops—soccer, tennis, volleyball, gymnastics, downhill skiing, and basketball to name a few.
Oftentimes, people can hear and feel a “pop” during an ACL injury. Depending on the injury’s severity, treatment options may include rest, rehabilitation, or surgery.
Other common ACL injury signs and symptoms include:
- Severe pain
- Inability to continue with activity
- Range of motion loss
Physical examination to diagnose an ACL injury will involve checking for tenderness and swelling. Overall function of the knee will also be examined.
While diagnosis can be made based on physical examination alone, some tests are necessary to accurately gauge the severity of the injury and to rule out other possible causes.
Below are some of the possible tests you will be asked to take:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – An MRI makes use of a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create images of both the soft and hard tissues in the body. An MRI can be an effective tool if the doctor wants to find out the full extent of your ACL injury and check for other signs of possible damage to other tissues of the knee.
- X-rays – X-rays are often done if the doctor would like to check for bone fractures.
- Ultrasound – To check for injuries in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the knee, an ultrasound will be ordered. An ultrasound will make use of sound waves to visualize the knee’s internal structures.
While proper and prompt first aid care can dramatically reduce the pain and swelling brought about by an ACL injury, other treatment options might be necessary depending on the severity of the injury.
Other treatment options include the following:
Treatment of an ACL injury will often comprise of weeks of rehabilitative therapy. You will be taught recommended exercises by a physical therapist that you can perform at home or under continued supervision.
In some cases, you will be asked to use crutches so you do not put weight and pressure on your knee. You will also be asked to wear a brace when necessary to help stabilize your knee.
The main goals of rehabilitation include restoring the knee’s full motion range, strengthening the muscles, and reducing the swelling and the pain.
Physical therapy can effectively treat an ACL injury if you are engaged in moderate recreational activities and exercises, if you are relatively inactive, or if you play sports that put very little stress on your knees.
Surgery might be a possible option under the following circumstances:
- You have more than one cartilage or ligament injured.
- You are active and young.
- You are an athlete and the sports you are you engaged in involves cutting, pivoting, or jumping.
- The injury causes your knees to buckle while you go about your everyday routine.
During an ACL reconstruction, damaged ligaments are removed and replaced with a segment of tendon. This procedure is what is commonly referred to as “grafting.”
Your surgeon will make use of a tendon taken from another part of your knee or from a deceased donor. The graft will work as scaffolding where new ligament tissues can grow.
Rehabilitative surgery will commence after surgery. Successful ACL reconstruction is often complemented with rigorous rehabilitation to effectively restore the knee’s function and stability. In most cases, athletes can engage in their sports again after eight to twelve months.