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What is an ACL?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament, ACL, is one of four main ligaments that is responsible for stabilizing your knee joint when you walk, move, run, jump, or squat. It is a strong band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone and helps to stabilize the knee joint. It attaches the tibia to the femur making sure that the tibia does not move too far forward. The ACL attaches on an angle and is therefore most commonly injured by athletes, especially skiers and soccer players, as sudden changes in speed or direction can tear the ACL. When this ligament is torn, it can cause pain, swelling, and instability in the knee. ACL tears can be treated with surgery or a combination of physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises.
Anatomy of the ACL
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament, ACL, is one of four main ligaments that is responsible for stabilizing your knee joint when you walk, move, run, jump, or squat. The posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament are the other main ligaments that keep your knee joint stable. The ACL is a strong stabilizing ligament that is composed mainly of Type I collagen. It attaches the tibia to the femur making sure that the tibia does not move too far forward. It attaches on an angle and is therefore most commonly injured by athletes, especially skiers and soccer players, as sudden changes in speed or direction can tear the ACL.
What can cause an ACL tear?
Athletes are at a higher risk for ACL tears because they often participate in activities that put stress on the knees, such as running, jumping, and change of direction movements. However, ACL tears can also occur in people who do not participate in sports. ACL tears can happen when the knee is suddenly twisted or bent in an unnatural way. This can happen if you fall awkwardly or if you are hit from the side while your leg is planted.
Most ACL tears are caused by non-contact injuries that involve sudden stops, changes of direction, or landing on one leg. These sports are typically basketball, soccer, football, volleyball, skiing, lacrosse, and tennis. A direct blow to the knee can also cause a torn ACL. Females are typically at greater risk of tearing their ACL, as they suffer from an annual ACL tear rate of nearly 5%. Patients who have torn an ACL are at a greater risk for injuring their other knee. You have a higher chance of tearing a previously-repaired ACL when getting back to sport.
What are the Symptoms of an ACL Tear?
The most common symptom of an ACL tear is a sudden, sharp pain in the knee. You may also hear a “pop” sound when the injury occurs. Other symptoms include swelling, instability, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected leg. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor right away so that your knee can be properly evaluated.
Diagnosing an ACL Tear
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. They will also conduct a physical examination of your knee. This may involve moving your leg in different ways to see if there is any instability or pain. Imaging tests, such as an MRI, may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating an ACL Tear
The treatment for an ACL tear depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury, your age and activity level, and whether you have other injuries to the knee. In some cases, nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises, may be enough to stabilize the knee and allow you to return to your normal activities. However, surgery is often necessary to repair a torn ACL. The most common type of surgery is a reconstruction, which involves replacing the damaged ligament with a piece of tissue from another part of your body or a donor.
Recovery From an ACL Tear
The recovery process from an ACL tear can be long and difficult. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and attend all of your physical therapy appointments. You will most likely be required to wear a knee brace set at certain range of motion with the use of crutches for a period of time after right after the surgery. Most people can return to their normal activities within six months to a year, but it may take longer for some people to fully recover. There is a risk of re-injuring the knee or developing arthritis in the joint if the ACL is not properly repaired.
Preventing an ACL Tear
There is no guaranteed way to prevent an ACL tear, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. If you participate in sports, it is important to warm up and stretch properly before you play. You should also wear proper shoes and use proper technique when participating in activities. If you have any previous knee injuries, it is important to get them checked out by a doctor and make sure they are fully healed before returning to activity.
The purpose of physical therapy is to help the patient regain range of motion and strength in the knee. Physical therapy will likely begin a few days after surgery. The therapist will start by teaching the patient exercises to do while lying down or sitting. These exercises will help to reduce swelling and pain. As the patient’s condition improves, they will be able to do more challenging exercises, such as riding a stationary bike or using a treadmill. The therapist may also use electrical stimulation or massage to help reduce pain and promote healing. Most people will need to continue physical therapy for several weeks to months.
A physical therapist can help the patient learn how to prevent further damage to the ACL by including quadricep, hamstring, hip abductor, and core strengthening. After the initial tear, the ACL will be more vulnerable to injury. You will be given exercises that will reduce your dependency on the supporting devices and help you gain strength and flexibility. After your doctors and physiotherapist become confident about you gaining full recovery, you will be free to continue with normal work and exercise.
If you have suffered an ACL tear, the team at Posh Physical Therapy can help you recover. We will create a personalized treatment plan that is designed to help you regain range of motion and strength in your knee. We will also help you to reduce pain and swelling. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.