What You Need to Know about an ACL Tear

ACL tear

ACL tears are common knee injuries that can be painful and can interfere with your ability to do normal activities. This page will help you understand what an ACL tear is and how it can be treated.

What causes an ACL tear?

The knee joint is the meeting point of the thigh bone, shin bone, and kneecap. To keep all of these bones in place, there are two cruciate ligaments that secure the knee joint: the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament. These ligaments provide stability in the knee and allow normal back-and-forth movement of the knee.

An ACL tear occurs when the anterior cruciate ligament tears as the result of an injury or accident. In some cases, the ACL may only partially tear or be sprained. These are considered lower grade sprains and are not as severe as a complete ACL tear.

Common causes for ACL tears include

  •       Stopping too quickly
  •       Twisting the knee the wrong way
  •       Landing or falling badly
  •       Pivoting to change direction too quickly
  •       Direct blow or hit to the knee (often during sports)

Athletes and those involved in other intense activities are the most likely to experience ACL tears. Young women also appear to be more susceptible to ACL tears. Those with previous ACL injuries also appear to be more vulnerable to reinjury.

ACL injury

What are the symptoms of an ACL tear?

The first sign of an ACL tear is typically a popping sound during physical activity after a bad move or fall. Other common symptoms include

  •       Sharp pain and tenderness in the knee joint
  •       Swelling of the knee
  •       Feeling of general instability in the knee
  •       Bruising around the knee
  •       Difficulty moving around
  •       Limited range of motion

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect an ACL tear, seek medical attention quickly to prevent further injury.

How is an ACL tear diagnosed?

To diagnose an ACL tear, an orthopaedic specialist will physically examine the injured knee for signs of instability and to assess its range of motion. They will likely perform a variety of physical tests to evaluate the integrity of the ACL.

X-rays may be ordered if the ACL tear is suspected to occur with a bone fracture. An MRI may also be recommended to more closely examine the soft tissue surrounding the knee joint to identify ACL tears or other signs of damage. 

How is an ACL tear treated?

Surgery is needed to repair a torn ACL, but many nonsurgical treatments can help those who may not be the best candidates for surgery. The course of treatment depends on the individual patient’s case.

Common nonsurgical treatments include

  •       Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers to reduce pain and swelling
  •       Wearing a brace that offers stability for the injured knee
  •       Trying physical therapy exercises that will help strengthen the injured knee

For those who wish to continue sports or an active lifestyle, surgery is often recommended. The ACL cannot typically be stitched back together, so most surgeons rely on grafts from other tendons in the body to repair the torn ACL. This graft can come from the patellar, hamstring, or quadriceps tendons in the patient’s body. Cadaver grafts are another option to avoid removing tendon from the patient’s body.

The surgery is often performed arthroscopically, which means that a small incision is made through which a small camera is inserted to view the area less invasively. Small, narrow instruments are then inserted to repair the damaged ACL with the graft and attach it to the shin and thigh bones.

Treating an ACL tear with Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants

ACL tears are frustrating injuries for many athletes and active people. They can interrupt your ability to play the sport you love and can be very painful injuries. At Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants, we understand how frustrating these injuries can be and are prepared with some of the most innovative treatments to get you back in the game.

Don’t put up with an ACL tear any longer. Book an appointment with us today!