There are few common knee injuries more painful that ACL tear, so in this post we look into what the common causes, symptoms and treatments for torn anterior cruciate ligaments, and also how to avoid them in the first place.
WHAT IS ANTERIOR CRUCIATE LIGAMENT (ACL) TEAR?
Your ACL or anterior cruciate ligament is one of four knee ligaments that are critical to the stability of your knee joint. Your ACL is made of tough fibrous material and functions to control excessive knee motion by limiting joint mobility.
PhysioWorks says that one of the most common problems involving the knee joint is an anterior cruciate ligament injury or ACL tear. Of the four major knee ligaments of the knee, an ACL injury or rupture is the most debilitating knee ligament injury.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR TORN ACL?
Treatment for an ACL tear will vary depending upon the patient's individual needs according to OrthoInfo. For example, the young athlete involved in agility sports will most likely require surgery to safely return to sports. The less active, usually older, individual may be able to return to a quieter lifestyle without surgery.
A torn ACL will not heal without surgery. But nonsurgical treatment may be effective for patients who are elderly or have a very low activity level. If the overall stability of the knee is intact, your doctor may recommend simple, nonsurgical options.
Bracing. Your doctor may recommend a brace to protect your knee from instability. To further protect your knee, you may be given crutches to keep you from putting weight on your leg.
Physical therapy. As the swelling goes down, a careful rehabilitation program is started. Specific exercises will restore function to your knee and strengthen the leg muscles that support it.
Rebuilding the ligament. Most ACL tears cannot be sutured (stitched) back together. To surgically repair the ACL and restore knee stability, the ligament must be reconstructed. Your doctor will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft acts as a scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT ACL TEAR?
The best way to prevent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries is to stretch and strengthen the leg muscles, especially the front and back muscles of the thigh (quadriceps and hamstrings).
You may help prevent ACL injuries if you:
- Avoid wearing shoes with cleats in contact sports.
- Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes.
- Avoid sports that involve lots of twisting and contact.
- Strengthening the injured knee through rehabilitation (rehab) exercises.
- Changing your sports techniques to avoid motions that might stress the injured knee.
- Changing your lifestyle to avoid sports that have a high risk of injuring your knee further, such as skiing, football, soccer, or basketball.
- Wearing a knee brace like this one during high-risk activities.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF TORN ACL?
Symptoms include pain, a popping sound during injury, instability of the knee, and joint swelling. Swelling generally appears within a couple of hours. In approximately 50% of cases other structures of the knee such as ligaments, cartilage, or meniscus are damaged.
WHAT CAUSES ACL TEAR?
Most ACL injuries happen during sports and fitness activities that can put stress on the knee:
- Suddenly slowing down and changing direction
- Pivoting with your foot firmly planted
- Landing from a jump incorrectly
- Stopping suddenly
- Receiving a direct blow to the knee or collision, such as a football tackle
When the ligament is damaged, there is usually a partial or complete tear across the tissue. A mild injury may overextend the ligament but leave it intact.
High demand sports that are commonly associated with ACL tears are football, rugby, netball, touch, basketball, tennis, volleyball, hockey, dance, gymnastics and much more.
After an ACL injury, you may be able to function in your normal daily activities without a normal ACL, but these high-demand sports may prove difficult. Therefore, athletes are often faced with the decision to undergo surgery in order to return to their previous level of competition.
Sadly, ACL injuries have been known to curtail many promising sporting careers.