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Common in athletes and active youngsters, torn ligaments often involve the knee joint. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a common site of athletic sprains. When the ACL tears, either partially or completely, it causes significant pain and impairs mobility.
The most common treatment for a torn ACL is surgery. The ligament will not heal on its own. Depending on the patient, non-surgical interventions might be appropriate. For anyone who is active, however, surgery is a must to get back to full strength.
The ACL provides important stability in the knee. ACL tears can be mild or severe, resulting in an inability to put weight on the joint.
The posterior and anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee cross back to front in the joint, making an X shape. The ACL runs from the front of the tibia (shinbone) to the femur (thighbone). It keeps the tibia from moving too far ahead of the femur. It also stabilizes the knee joint during rotational movements.
A sprain occurs when a ligament stretches or tears. The ACL can be overstretched in accidents and injuries. It can also tear, partially or completely through, severing the ligament entirely. The latter is known as a grade 3 sprain and leaves the knee joint unstable.
An ACL tear is a fairly common injury, especially among active young people and athletes. Any movement that requires a sudden stop or change in direction can twist and tear it. Contact sports and other types of trauma, like car accidents, can also tear the ACL.
Only minor sprains will heal without intervention. A tear requires at least nonsurgical treatment, but most people need surgery to correct the tear and be restored to full mobility and activity level. You will likely know if you’ve torn a ligament in the knee if you have these symptoms:
In some cases, nonsurgical treatment is more appropriate, at least as a first step. For instance, a younger child or teen might suffer a growth plate injury after ACL surgery, necessitating a delay.
Torn knee ligament treatment is not as simple as stitching the tissue back together. A surgeon must reconstruct the ligament using additional tissue. There are a few different ways to do this:
Your surgeon will discuss the best type of ACL surgery for you or your child considering your symptoms, lifestyle, and the results of imaging scans of the injury. Preparation for the procedure often involves going through some physical therapy and bracing for initial healing.
In the days leading up to the surgery, you should follow your surgeon’s instructions in terms of medications to stop taking and when to stop eating. Prepare your home so you can get around easily and have the essentials in one place where you can rest and recover.
You should have someone available to take you to the procedure and drive you home. ACL reconstruction is usually an outpatient surgery, so be ready to go home the same day. You will be able to walk on crutches very soon after, but you will still need someone at home to help you with tasks.
The surgeon will send you home with a prescription for pain medication and a plan for recovery. You might need to wear a brace, and icing will help reduce swelling in the joint. You will need to rest, but your surgeon will likely recommend working on straightening the knee, establishing more range of motion, and putting some weight on it.
Rehab for an ACL tear is essential for full recovery. Your surgeon will recommend a course of physical therapy and rehabilitation to strengthen the joint, muscles, and connective tissue. The more effort you put into rehab and PT, the sooner you will be back to full strength. It can take several months to resume your normal activities.
Contact us today to request an appointment with one of our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists who can discuss ACL surgery with you.
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