Knee Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery

November 7, 2022

Symptoms & Solutions: ACL Tears


An ACL is a common injury in athletes and non-athletes alike. ACL tears are commonly seen in people who play contact sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. They can also occur in everyday activities like squatting or simply jumping up from the ground.

What is an ACL Tear?

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a strong brand of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. It is one of the major stabilizing ligaments in the knee. A tear in the ACL can happen when the knee is bent too far backward, twisted, or overextended.

When the ACL tears completely, it can lead to pain, swelling, difficulty walking or running, and instability of the knee joint, which may cause the knee to give out during physical activity or even while at rest. The severity of symptoms depends on the extent of the tear, but these injuries usually require surgery to reattach the torn ligament.

It takes between three months and a year to return to pre-injury levels of function, but most patients can resume daily activities after six months.

Types of ACL Tears

The severity of an ACL tear depends on how much of your ligament is torn. When less than 50% of your ligament is torn, you usually recover much quicker and have little to no permanent damage.

In some cases, partial tears occur. Partial tears are more difficult to diagnose because they can heal on their own. However, many still need surgery because they can lead to other problems later in life. It’s also easier to make a full recovery when a partial tear is diagnosed in time for surgery.

What are Symptoms of an ACL Tear?

There are many symptoms of an ACL tear, but not all of them appear in every person. The most common symptom of an ACL tear is pain and swelling in the knee joint. Other symptoms may include loss of range of motion, tenderness, locking or instability of the knee joint, and popping or snapping sensations.

Swelling and stiffness usually occur right after the injury. The pain can be mild to moderate at first, but it worsens over time. If you’re still experiencing knee pain after two weeks, talk to your doctor. You could have a more serious injury that needs surgery.

Symptoms can differ if there is damage to other areas of your knee. For example, if other knee ligaments are damaged, you may feel pain in those areas and experience more swelling than when only your ACL is affected. In addition, because of how damaged ligaments affect the surrounding muscles, you may also experience muscle weakness.

How is an ACL Tear Diagnosed?

To determine if your ACL is torn, your doctor will perform a physical examination of your knee to look for instability in the joint and test your range of motion. You may also undergo an MRI or an x-ray. These imaging tests will show the extent of the damage and help your doctor determine if surgery is needed.

If you suspect that you’ve torn your ACL, seek treatment right away. Your doctor will want to confirm the diagnosis, rule out other injuries, and determine how severe your injury is. If an ACL tear is confirmed, you’ll need surgery to repair it as soon as possible. Other treatments may also be recommended based on your unique situation.

How is an ACL Tear Treated?

Treatment for an ACL tear depends on the grade of the injury. There are three grades of ACL tears:

  • Grade I is a small tear with little to no instability.
  • Grade II is a moderate tear with some instability.
  • Grade III is a complete tear with significant instability.

Surgery is usually the best treatment option to repair a torn ACL. However, several nonsurgical options may effectively treat a mild ACL tear, including physical therapy, bracing, and anti-inflammatory medication.

If you have an ACL tear, it is important to see a doctor to discuss your treatment options. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of decreased range of motion and permanent damage to your knee joint.

ACL Reconstruction Surgery

Reconstruction surgery can repair your torn ACL by replacing it with a piece of tissue from another part of your body. Depending on the severity of your injury, this can be done in a few different ways.

  • Allograft reconstruction is performed with a tissue or tendon graft from a donor.
  • A bone-patellar tendon-bone graft involves harvesting tendons from your own knee to replace your damaged ligament.
  • A hamstring graft uses a tendon taken from your hamstring muscle as a replacement for your torn ligament.
  • A quadriceps tendon graft involves using a portion of your patellar tendon as an alternative to an allograft.

Recovering from ACL Reconstruction Surgery

The process of recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery includes resting your knee, using crutches or a cane if necessary, limiting activity as much as possible without causing any more harm to the injured area, and physical therapy to help strengthen muscles around the joint. Rehabilitation exercises are usually required following surgery to help restore function and mobility.

Do You Need Surgery for an ACL Tear?

If you suspect that you’ve torn your ACL, don’t wait. The orthopedic and sports medicine experts at Arkansas Surgical Hospital can evaluate your knee pain and determine the right course of action to get you back on your feet. Request an appointment online or call (501) 748-8000 for help scheduling a consultation to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss treatment options.

Photo by Ruben Leija on Unsplash

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