Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear of the Knee
What are the symptoms of an ACL tear?
People who suffer an ACL tear usually hear a loud pop at the time of their injury or feel a sudden shift in their knee joint. Pain ranges from mild to excruciating, depending on the severity of the injury.
Other symptoms include:
- Knee swelling and stiffness
- Instability in the knee joint
- Limited range of motion
- Discomfort while walking
- Tenderness along the joint line
Sometimes the initial pain and swelling resolve on their own. If you attempt to return to sports without any treatment, however, you risk causing further damage to your knee.
How is an ACL tear diagnosed?
In addition to a physical exam and patient history, MRI is the most effective test to confirm the diagnosis of a torn ACL or associated knee injuries.
What is the treatment?
ACL tears do not necessarily require surgery. Initial treatment focuses on pain control, restoring range of motion and preventing further injury. It is important to regain motion in the knee as soon as possible to aid in recovery.
The decision for operative or non-operative treatment depends on several factors including a patient’s age, activity level, severity of symptoms and expectations. For older, sedentary patients with a relatively stable knee and little desire to return to high-level sports or fitness routines, non-operative rehabilitation and activity modification may be sufficient. For active patients of almost all ages – especially young athletes – reconstruction of an ACL tear is highly recommended. Stable knees are critical for safely returning to sports and preventing re-injury or additional injury. ACL reconstruction can also minimize the chance of knee arthritis or instability later in life.
ACL reconstructive surgery uses an autograft (tissue from your body) or an allograft (tissue from a cadaver) to replace the ligament. The graft selected for reconstruction is individualized based on a patient’s age, the surgeon’s preference, and the expected physical demands in the future. This should be discussed specifically with your surgeon.
Return to daily and sports activities varies depending on the surgery and your surgeon. Usually, return to sporting activity is restricted for at least six months. An appropriate physical therapy program is considered critical for the success of ACL reconstruction.