ACL injury is the medical term used to refer to the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament of the ACL.
Typical ACL injuries typically occur in sports that involve drastic stops, sudden jumps, and changes in direction—tennis, gymnastics, downhill skiing, basketball, and soccer to name a few.
In most cases, affected individuals can feel and hear a “pop” during an ACL injury.
Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment options can range from rehabilitation, rest, or surgery.
Typical symptoms of ACL injuries include but are not limited to the following:
- Inability to continue with any activity
- Extreme pain
- Loss of range of motion
To accurately diagnose an ACL injury, physical examination and checking for swelling and tenderness will be done. The knee’s overall function will also be assessed.
While making a diagnosis can be done based merely on the physical examination, some tests will be required to rule out other possible causes and gauge the severity of the ACL injury.
Below are some of the possible tests that will be required:
- X-rays – X-rays are often requested when your attending doctor would like to check for possible bone fractures.
- Ultrasound – in order to check for any tendon, muscle, or ligament injuries, an ultrasound will be required. An ultrasound will employ sound waves to visualize the internal structures of the knee.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – MRIs make use of radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create images of the body’s soft and hard tissues. It is deemed an effective tool if the doctor would like to gauge the full extent of an ACL injury and check for other signs of possible damage.
Although prompt and proper first aid care can significantly reduce the swelling and pain caused by an ACL injury, other treatment alternatives might be required, depending on the severity.
Other treatment options include:
ACL injury treatment will often entail weeks of rehabilitative therapy.
Physical therapists will teach patients recommended exercises that can be performed at home or under their continued supervision.
In some instances, crutches are recommended so less stress and strain are placed on the knees. A brace might also be recommended to help stabilize the affected knee.
The primary goals of rehabilitation include muscle strengthening, reduction of swelling and pain, and restoration of full motion range.
Physical therapy can be very effective in treating an ACL injury if the patient is relatively inactive, does not engage in sports that put stress on the knees, and is only engaged in moderate exercises and recreational activities.
Surgery is a likely treatment alternative given the following circumstances:
- More than one ligament or cartilage is injured
- The patient is young and active
- The patient is an athlete engaged in sports that entails jumping, pivoting, and cutting
- The injury makes the knees buckle even when performing daily activities
During an ACL reconstruction, ligaments that are damaged are removed. The damaged ligaments are replaced by a segment of tendon. The procedure is commonly known as grafting.
The surgeon will use the tendon taken from another part of the knee or it will be taken from a deceased donor. The graft will function as a scaffolding, where the new ligament tissues will grow.
Rehabilitative surgery will often start after surgery. Successful reconstruction of the ACL is often followed by rigorous rehabilitation.
This is done to ensure the knee’s function and stability are restored.
Oftentimes, athletes with ACL injuries can already engage in their sports after eight to twelve months.