ACL injuries are most common amongst athletes, especially basketball and soccer players and ice skaters. ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament. It is one of four ligaments that attach the femur (the bone above your knee) to the tibia (the bone below your knee). Its main job is to stabilize the movement of your knee.
Common ACL Injuries
The most common injuries to an ACL are sprains and tears. When the ACL is sprained it refers to the over stretching of the ligament. The ligament then becomes irritated and may swell. It is often painful to apply weight to the affected leg and range of motion in the knee is decreased.
An ACL tear is something much more serious. A tear can be either partial or complete. With a complete tear the ligament has torn all the way through and is fully separated. In a partial tear the ligament has not torn all of the way through and is still attached. When a tear is present the knee usually swells significantly and is unable to bear any weight. In this case the knee loses close to all range of motion due to the extent of the swelling and pain with movement.
The treatment of a moderate to severe sprain and a partial tear is mostly the same. The affected limb may be placed in an immobilizing splint. The patient may require crutches to assist in walking without putting weight on the leg. Physical therapy and non-steroidal analgesics (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed and the recovery period is typically three months to six months. A tear generally requires closer to six months to heal. Sprains and mild tears do not require surgical intervention, though the patient is encouraged to stay off of their leg while it heals.
A complete tear requires the care of an orthopedic surgeon. A tear can only be diagnosed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If a tear is present you will receive a surgical consult that will layout a surgical plan to reattach the ACL. This plan can vary depending on the severity of the tear and may require a tissue graft from another tendon. Pre- and post- surgical care is much the same as that of a sprain or mild tear, with the exception of wound care, which will be dependent upon the method of surgery used. Recovery of a complete ACL tear often ranges from six months to a year.
How to Avoid an ACL Injury
ACL injuries are more common in female athletes than males, however the recommendations for avoiding injuries are the same for both males and females. Recommendations include:
- Even exercise to ensure equal strength on both sides of the body
- Being mindful of your balance and using good posture
- Proper stretching before and after exercise
- Maintaining a healthy body weight and balanced diet
Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine strives to stay on top of the latest trends in orthopaedic care. Our highly trained specialists are experts in caring for ACL tears. For an appointment with one of our specialists, contact us at (757) 873-1554. We are ready to get you back to doing what you love!