The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament in the knee that helps to stabilize the joint. A torn ACL occurs when the ligament is stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. ACL tears are common in sports, especially in contact sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. They can also occur from falls or other accidents.
Torn ACL symptoms
The symptoms of a torn ACL can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some people may have mild symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms that interfere with their daily activities.
Common symptoms of a torn ACL include:
- A loud pop or popping sensation in the knee at the time of the injury
- Severe pain and swelling in the knee
- Instability of the knee joint
- Difficulty moving the knee joint
- Bruising around the knee
Treatment Options for a Torn ACL
A knee injury should be treated immediately by a physician. An in-depth exam can help determine the extent of your injury and what tissues have been affected. In addition, it will allow you to choose the best treatment options. Continue reading to learn more about ACL repair.
It depends on the severity and nature of the tear. There is no one right way to decide when surgery is the best. Your trusted medical team will determine the best treatment. Low-grade tears usually heal quickly with conservative treatment. However, severe tears or knee instability will likely need surgery to restore normal knee function.
Non-Surgical Treatment for an ACL Injury
The least invasive treatment is recommended whenever possible. However, it doesn't matter how severe the injury is; conservative treatment is always the best option. You will get the best results no matter how traditional or invasive you go. This is where you need to start.
- Use RICE (rest ice, compression, and elevation) to keep swelling and pain under control. Use Cold therapy to allow healing, and don't force the knee. Instead, resting your knees seated would be best to heal properly. Finally, a Cold therapy pack can reduce swelling and knee pain.
- The best option to heal from an ACL injury is physical therapy. A physical therapist will evaluate your knee function and help you create a customized home program. They can also optimize your body's healing abilities with manual therapy, electrical stimulation, education, and manual therapy. A physical therapist can help you return to your everyday life and remove the anxiety and uncertainty of healing.
Exercises for Strengthening
- The severity of your injury, the stage of healing, and the strength and flexibility of your knee will determine the exercises you can do with a torn ACL. There is always a delicate balance between recovery and maintaining knee function. The initial focus will be on strengthening the leg muscles, particularly in the quadriceps, and maintaining a gentle range of motion at the knee joints. As time passes, the exercises will become more functional weight-bearing movements and coordination to build knee stability.
- A well-fitted brace can help protect the knee and encourage movement earlier in life. On the other hand, it can boost excessive confidence, which could lead to too much activity. A brace for milder injuries can allow for a faster return and better knee support.
- A brace may be worn by athletes at high risk of injury in high-risk sports. For the best options, consult an orthopedist or physical therapist.
Torn ACL Recovery Time
Each person's prognosis and the healing time for a torn ACL are different. An ACL tear can occur with other injuries, such as patellar tendon or knee ligaments. You can expect a three-month to 6 month recovery period. It would help to maximize the treatment options mentioned above to return to your daily activities and routines comfortably.
Opting for ACL reconstruction can occur for many reasons. There are many reasons to consider ACL reconstruction. These include a severe tear, gross knee instability, high-risk activities, and a more active lifestyle. The procedure is performed under a microscope (which means minimal scarring) and can be used to reattach or replace the ACL (typically synthetic, hamstring, or cadaver).
What to Expect After Surgery
Crutches are recommended during the first few weeks after ACL reconstruction surgery due to weakness and pain. Crutches can be used until your knee is strong enough to support the entire weight without limping. How much weight you can carry through the injured leg may be restricted. Braces can be used to protect the knee from excessive ranges of motion, which could lead to damage to the healing ligament.
You can expect to feel some swelling or pain, no matter what. Follow your orthosurgeon's instructions. This includes the possible use of a brace and exercises.
How long does recovery take?
The average recovery time is six to nine months. However, most patients can walk within a few days of surgery. Physical therapy can be started immediately following surgery. It begins with pain management and a range of motion for the knees and then progresses to strengthening and functional activities, as needed. You can expect to regain your knee function and return to previous activity levels with physical therapy.
Preventing Torn ACL
There is no surefire way to prevent ACL tears, but there are several things you can do to reduce your risk, such as:
- Warm up before participating in sports or activities that put your knees at risk.
- Wear protective gear, such as knee pads, when participating in sports or activities that put your knees at risk.
- Be careful when using tools or equipment that could hit your knees.
- Avoid overuse. If you experience pain in your knee, stop the activity and rest. Continuing the activity could make the injury worse.
- Strengthen the muscles around your knee. Strong muscles help to support the knee joint and reduce the risk of injury. Exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles are especially beneficial.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts additional stress on your joints, including your knee joints.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet gives your body the necessary nutrients to build and repair tissues.
If you have any medical conditions that weaken your ligaments or tendons, such as arthritis or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, taking precautions to prevent ACL tears is especially important.
By following these tips, you can help to reduce your risk of ACL tears and keep your knee joints healthy.
ACL Recovery: Precautions
The key to your recovery success is restoring knee function while giving enough time for healing. You can use your symptoms to guide you throughout the healing process. For example, do not allow something to cause a significant increase in pain or instability in your knees. You can talk to your sports medicine physician or therapist about modifications.