What is the anterior cruciate ligament?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the two ligaments that cross in the middle of the knee to connect the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone) in order to stabilize the knee joint. Ligaments are bands of tough, fibrous tissue that connect bones.

What causes a torn ACL?

When the ACL is torn, it means that the fibers that make up the ligament have ripped to some degree. When this injury occurs, it’s usually the result of something that happens during a sports or fitness activity, such as:

  • Abruptly slowing down and changing direction (cutting)
  • Incorrectly landing after jumping
  • Pivoting with a firmly-planted foot
  • Suddenly stopping
  • Taking a direct blow to the outside of the knee or leg, usually when the leg is bent inward or hyperextended

What are the symptoms of a torn ACL?

When the ACL is injured, the following symptoms usually appear:

  • A popping sensation or loud pop in the knee occurs
  • Loss of range of motion in the knee
  • Severe pain and swelling
  • The sensation of lost stability or the knee “giving way” when weight is applied

What are the risk factors for developing a torn ACL?

There are a couple of factors that can contribute to an ACL tear. These include:

  • A previously torn ACL, which increases the chance of a re-tear by 15 percent
  • Being between the ages of 15 and 45
  • Gender, because females are four to six times more likely to tear it

How is a torn ACL treated?

R.I.C.E.

Immediately following injury, the R.I.C.E. method should be used to bring down swelling and reduce pain:

  • Rest the leg by keeping weight off of it
  • Ice the knee every two hours for about 20 minutes
  • Compress the knee by wrapping an elastic bandage around it
  • Elevate the leg by propping it up on some pillows

Rehabilitation Therapy

ACL injuries are first treated through several weeks of rehabilitation therapy with a physical therapist. During that time, patients are taught exercises that will help reduce pain and swelling, restore range of motion and strengthen the muscles in the knee. A brace and crutches may be needed to stabilize the knee and keep weight off of it.

This method may successfully treat the tear in patients with only a moderate activity level, who are fairly inactive or who play a sport that doesn’t place a lot of stress on the knees.

Surgery

Surgery may be recommended by a physician if the patient is:

  • An athlete who wants to continue playing their sport(s)
  • Young and highly active
  • Living with a knee that buckles during everyday activity

There are a few reconstruction options, including:

  • Hamstring autograft, where the hamstring is used to reconstruct the ACL.
  • Patellar tendon autograft, which uses the patient’s tendon to reconstruct the ACL.
  • Allografts, a method of grafting (transplanting tissue) using cadaver tendon

Following surgery, rehabilitation therapy is key to returning function to the knee and to learning how to prevent an ACL injury in the future. At-home exercise programs may also be an option for some patients.

Usually, an athlete may return to his or her sport within six to 12 months following surgery. The surgeon will determine the timeline for return to activities based on the individual.

Come to the ACL Specialists

At IGEA, our orthopaedic surgeon specializes in treating sports injuries, including ligament tears, using advanced treatment options. These and other specialties are part of our practice’s full continuum of care for patients living with brain, spine, neuroendovascular and orthopaedic conditions.

For more information about the superior care and services we provide or to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, contact us today.