What is the ACL?
The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of the four main ligaments in the knee. The ligament connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia), keeping the knee from hyperextending, preventing anterior dislocation at the tibia, providing rotational stability and support to help prevent unnatural movement in the joint. If the knee is twisted, bent side to side, or hyperextended, the ACL can be injured.
Contact sports or high-impact activities involving rapid twisting movements may place extreme forces on the knee, which can lead to injury. Basketball, football, soccer, baseball, tennis, and skiing are common activities that can lead to a tear or rupture of an ACL. However, ACL injuries can also occur in older adults as the ACL becomes weaker with age. Simple activities such as missing a step on a staircase, stepping in a hole, or falling can cause ACL tears.
Treatment for ACL injuries depends on the severity of the tear and whether other parts of the knee are injured. The patient’s activity level and overall health are also considered before treatment begins.
Depending on the activity level of the patient, minor ACL tears are usually treated with physical rehabilitation, which will help build strength and increase flexibility in the knee. Rehabilitation normally lasts a few weeks, at which time most patients return to normal activities.
Complete ACL tears, called ruptures, normally require ACL Reconstruction surgery followed by several months to a year of rehabilitation. ACL Reconstruction is the most common form of treatment for patients who require the use of a stable knee for athletic sports, walking, or other low-impact activities.
It is important to get a timely diagnosis of an ACL injury to avoid potentially damaging the knee further. Typically, surgery may be delayed until several weeks after the injury. The delay allows swelling to subside and enables the injured knee to regain some strength, stability, and range of motion. Delaying the surgery also decreases the risk of permanent stiffness or decreased motion following surgery.