A torn ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the most frequent sports injuries. Whether complete or partial, this tear limits knee mobility and range of motion causes pain and weight-bearing issues and keeps you from the activities you love.
What should you and your orthopedic surgeon do next? Let’s delve deeper.
How Does a Torn ACL Happen?
The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a strong band of tissue connecting the thigh bone, or femur, and the lower leg bone, or tibia, at the knee. The ACL’s twin, the posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL, is located behind the knee joint. Together, the two ligaments stabilize and strengthen the knee, protecting it from wayward front-to-back or side-to-side motion issues.
A complete or partial ACL tear happens to thousands of Americans annually–one out of every 3500 adults. Both men and women suffer this injury, however, it occurs more among female athletes, perhaps because their ligaments and tendons are more lax due to reproductive hormones.
Typically, an ACL over-stretches (strains) or sustains a complete or partial tear due to:
- Sudden stops or turns, which place excessive pressure on the knee joint
- A front or side impact to the knee, as in a football tackle
- Hyperextension of the knee when jumping high and landing hard, as in gymnastics dismounts
- Changing direction quickly at high speeds
When the ACL tears, it becomes painful and unstable. Many people hear a popping noise at the time of the tear. You will likely be unable to bear weight, depending on the severity, or grade, of the tear, and you may see swelling and bruising, too. Your bone and joint specialist will determine how severe your tear is and what treatment you need to regain motion and strength.
What Should I Do If I Tear My ACL?
A few things you should do immediately if you tear your ACL are: rest your leg, ice the knee, place an ACE bandage to provide support and elevate the leg. This is the tried and true RICE protocol recommended for many orthopedic injuries. Also, you may take over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
Then, see your orthopedic specialist in Bismarck. Tell them the circumstances surrounding your injury and the symptoms you have, including your level of pain.
The orthopedic doctor will do a hands-on examination and order digital X-ray imaging. To gather more precise images, they may order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or even an inspection via arthroscopy, the surgical insertion of a small lighted camera into the joint.
From there, they’ll share their findings and give you treatment options. Grade 3 tears are usually candidates for surgical repair. This small incision procedure grafts new ligament material onto the site of the tear. The graft may originate in your own leg muscle or in your knee joint–specifically, the patellar tendon.
What Will My Recovery Look Like?
Recovery from an ACL tear takes time, but as long as you adhere to your physician’s plan for rehabilitation, you will regain strength and range of motion in your knee joint. Over time, however, you may develop a degree of osteoarthritis, a common complication of ACL tears. In most cases, you will be able to return to normal activities following an ACL tear if you follow through with your doctor’s recovery instructions.
Can I Prevent an ACL Tear?
It helps to stay in good physical condition, maintain a proper body weight, and warm-up and stretch before each workout or game. Wear well-fitting, supportive athletic footwear. If you ski, use properly installed bindings with quality skis and ski boots. All of these actions will help reduce your risk.
Help From the Finest Sports Medicine Physicians in Bismarck, ND
At The Bone & Joint Center in Bismarck, ND, our board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons and their team use the latest diagnostic, surgical, and rehabilitation techniques to help you regain your best knee function.
We have 9 locations throughout North Dakota, so there’s definitely at least one convenient location near you. Call us at (800) 424-2663, or request an appointment online.