When your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) breaks or tears, you may hear or feel a pop in your knee or feel as though your knee has “given out.” Additional signs include:
- An acute swelling that lasts for two to four weeks and may begin four to six hours after the incident.
- Decrease in knee range of motion.
- Discomfort while walking.
When you get diagnosed with an ACL injury, you often have to decide what kind of care you want to get. Many people with ACL tears undergo surgery to resume their pre-injury activities. You might decide against surgery if your activity level isn’t as high. You should be aware, nevertheless, that your damaged ACL won’t repair itself.
What surgical procedures are available?
Repairing a ruptured ACL involves grafting a tendon from your body, such as a hamstring (from the back of the thigh) or the patellar tendon (from the front of the knee). Sometimes older people who are still highly active can benefit from using a cadaver, a tendon from someone who passed away and offered their corpse to science. Young athletes rarely use cadaver tendons because of the greater rates of re-tear.
The procedure is minimally invasive, which means the ACL surgeon uses a thin wand-like tool called an arthroscope rather than creating a wide incision with a scalpel. The surgeon inserts the arthroscope and the surgical instruments through tiny incisions in your knee. It usually takes six to nine months to fully recover from an ACL operation.
After the surgery
You must keep your wound dry and clean following surgery. You may apply ice to lessen discomfort and swelling. You may also need to use crutches and a brace. Additionally, physical therapy is essential to strengthen your knee and the muscles around it.
You should practice easy strengthening activities, gentle range-of-motion exercises, and some weight-bearing exercises in the days immediately following surgery. Physical therapy, including challenging balance and strengthening exercises, should begin in the first week.
If you’re not an athlete, sport-specific activities like hopping, jumping, and agility drills are included in the rehabilitation regimen after roughly 12 to 16 weeks. After an ACL operation, an athlete should be able to resume regular exercise six to nine months afterward.
Are there alternatives to surgery?
Bracing and physical therapy are examples of non-surgical treatments:
- Bracing: If you wrap it in a brace, your knee will remain stable. You will need to use crutches to avoid putting weight on that leg.
- Physical therapy: Workouts will improve your knee’s functionality and the leg muscles that support it.
Remember that you have a greater chance of reinjuring your knee if you decide against surgery.
Are ACL injuries preventable?
Although it may not be able to prevent ACL injuries in athletes, several training methods can reduce the likelihood of suffering an ACL tear.
You should pay specific attention to two things, how you take hard, quick steps to accelerate in another direction (or “cut”) and how you land on your feet after jumping or stepping (or “plant”).
Approximately 70% of ACL injuries result from cutting and planting movements. Therefore proper training techniques can help prevent these injuries.