An ACL tear is a common injury where a sudden contortion or repetitive use of the knee causes the anterior cruciate ligament to tear. The ACL is a band of tissue that connects the femur and tibia bones. When the ACL is torn or sprained, it can cause pain and instability in the knee.
What You Need To Know About an ACL Tear
What is an ACL Tear?
An ACL tear is a debilitating knee injury. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a ligament that connects the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) together. When working normally, the ACL prevents the femur from sliding backward onto the tibia. It also stabilizes the rotation of the knee. Since an anterior cruciate ligament tear is caused by abrupt stops, pivots, falls, and changes in direction, it is common among athletes.
When the ACL is torn or sprained, the knee can swell and stiffen, causing pain, weakness, and instability.
What Causes an ACL Tear?
ACL injuries commonly occur during physical activity. The injury is common among athletes who play sports that require sudden stops or changes in direction, like skiing, soccer, football, etc. Other movements that may cause an anterior cruciate ligament tear are slowing down while running, jumping and landing on the leg abnormally, pivoting the leg, taking a blow to the knee, or falling.
Although ACL tears are often caused by direct trauma, they can also be caused by degenerative disorders like knee osteoarthritis. In this situation, the ACL tears as a result of wear and tear on the knee joint. The ACL and surrounding cartilage also degenerate with age, which increases the risk of a tear.
What are the Symptoms of an ACL Tear?
The symptoms of an ACL tear can be debilitating. When the injury occurs, you may experience a popping sound or sensation while the knee gives out. This is usually accompanied by intense pain, swelling, and instability.
Typical symptoms of a torn ACL may include limited range of motion in the knee, tenderness in the joint, or difficulty walking. If the knee is in intense pain or if symptoms persist over 48-72 hours, contact a joint physician immediately.
How is an ACL Tear Diagnosed?
To diagnose an ACL tear, a Resurgens physician will give you a physical examination. Your doctor will check your knee for swelling and tenderness. They will also check the range of motion of the knee and the stability of the joint.
Checking the joint may also involve a Lachman test, where the knee is flexed 20-30 degrees. Your physician will grasp the tibia and put their thumb on the tibial tubercule (a bone that lies just below the knee and attaches to the patellar tendon). Then your physician will grasp the thigh above the knee with their other hand and pull forward. If the leg comes to a firm stop, the ACL is intact, and if there is not, there will be no firm stopping of this motion.
Your physician may recommend a diagnostic screening to determine the type of injury and make sure there are no other internal issues. Data from these screenings can be used to create a unique treatment plan for your healing.
ACL Tear Treatment
No two injuries are the same, and as such, treatment varies on a case-by-case basis. Depending on your needs and level of normal day-to-day activity, your physician will determine the best treatment option for you. Resurgens Orthopaedics offers non-surgical and surgical options for treatment.
For mild Grade 1 ACL tears, surgery may not be necessary to make a full recovery. Non-surgical techniques are usually more effective for those who do not live a vigorously active lifestyle, such as older patients. If the stability of the knee is intact, your doctor will recommend simple non-surgical treatment options.
Your doctor may recommend a brace to provide stability in the knee and/or give you crutches to prevent excess pressure on the knee while getting around. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are recommended to reduce swelling and promote healing. After a period of immobilization, you will begin a physical rehabilitation program to regain strength and range of motion in the knee.
Most ACL tears cannot be easily repaired and usually require ACL reconstruction surgery. Before your surgery, your Resurgens physician will discuss the best surgical treatment option for your condition.
There are two different methods of ACL reconstruction. The hamstring technique uses a small incision below the knee where semitendinosus and gracilis tendons are separated from the hamstring muscle. These tendons are left connected to the tibia and are braided together to form an autograft that replaces the damaged ACL. The patellar tendon technique uses a small incision in the front of the knee to take a graft from the patellar tendon, which is then used to replace the ACL.
Your doctor will talk with you before the surgery and help determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition. Book an appointment with a Resurgens joint physician today!