Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL)
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a tear in a ligament of the knee. The ACL is a tough band of fiber in the middle of the knee joint. It connects the lower leg bone to the thigh bone. The ACL keeps the knee stable during movement. It keeps the lower leg bone from sliding too far forward. An injury to this ligament can make the knee unstable. The injury may be partly torn or a complete tear.
|Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury|
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An ACL injury may be more likely with:
- Weak knee structure
- Muscle strength imbalance between muscles in front and back of the leg
- Sports that require sudden changes of direction and sudden stopping or slowing
- Poor technique when cutting, planting, pivoting, or jumping
- Earlier ACL injury or surgery
You will be asked about your symptoms. The doctor will want to know how the knee was injured. A physical exam will be done with tests for knee strength and stability.
The doctor may suspect an ACL injury based on symptoms. Tests may be done if a severe injury is possible or other areas of the joint may be damaged. Tests may include:
- MRI scan
Treatment will depend on how severe the injury is and your overall health. Recovery time will vary.
First steps will help to reduce pain and swelling. It will include self care such as rest, ice, and keeping leg elevated when resting. It may be at least 2 to 4 weeks before surgery can be done. Medicine may also be needed to ease pain and swelling.
The ACL can't heal. The tear will remain but surgery may not be needed if the knee is stable. This may work for those that are less active or those who can adjust their activity.
Surgery may be needed:
- For people who are young and active
- For people who want to return to intense sports
- If other ligaments of the knee are damaged
- The knee is unstable and makes basic movement difficult
The ACL will be remade with tissue from other areas of the body. A piece of tendon from another area of the body may be used. Some may use a piece of tissue from a donor. It can take several months for the graft to become strong enough to return to sports.
Physical therapy may be done for those with or without surgery. Knee movement can be tested to make a plan for recovery. Therapy can include exercise and stretching to help balance the muscles of the legs. This can help stabilize the knee and lower the risk of more injury.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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