Understanding ACL Tears
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an essential band of tissue that connects the femur to the tibia. The ACL helps to stabilize the knee joint. In athletes, ACL sprains are common. Typically, these injuries occur during high-intensity sports such as soccer, basketball, or football. How can a person tell if knee pain is an ACL tear?
1. Did you hear a pop?
One of the most telltale signs of an ACL tear is hearing a pop or experiencing a popping sensation in the knee. Due to hormonal and anatomical differences, women are more at risk of these injuries than men. However, ill-fitting footwear and poor conditioning can be significant risk factors for an ACL injury.
2. How quickly does the knee swell?
ACL tears are accompanied by rapid swelling and severe pain. Typically, athletes will be unable to continue activity and experience a loss of range of motion. The injuries often occur during pivoting, landing awkwardly from a jump, or receiving a direct blow to the knee.
3. Instability is immediate
With any sprain, the pain of the injury will cause a person to limp or resist putting weight on the injured joint. With an ACL tear, there’s an immediate feeling that the knee is going to give way under pressure. Because the ligament connects the thigh to the shinbone, the ACL is responsible for a significant amount of stability in the knee.
What are my treatment options?
ACL tears often require surgery. However, some other treatments may be tried if the injury is not severe. Some people may need to use a knee brace or undergo physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee. If the tear is significant, or if the knee gives way while walking, an orthopedic specialist may recommend surgery.
What to expect during surgery
During ACL surgery, the doctor removes the damaged ACL and implants tissue to help a new ligament grow in place of the old one. The procedure helps many athletes be active again. However, recovery can take up to a year and involves robust physical therapy.
Preventing knee injuries
Proper conditioning is crucial for preventing a knee injury. Exercises that strengthen the leg muscles, core, hips, and pelvis can help to adequately condition an athlete. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can help athletes learn how to jump, land, and pivot with proper technique. For more information about treatment for sports injuries, speak with a healthcare provider.