Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tears: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment 

One of the most common knee injuries is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear or sprain. Athletes participating in high-intensity contact sports like football or soccer are more likely to injure their ACLs. You may require surgery depending on the severity of the injury and your activity level. 

Prairie Garden Medical offers innovative diagnostic methods and state-of-the-art surgical techniques to treat ACL tears. 

Introduction to ACL tears

Your knee is a large joint that acts as a hinge point between the upper leg bone (femur) and the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula), which are connected by several ligaments. ACL is a band of ligament present in the middle of the knee which runs diagonally. 

The ACL prevents excessive forward movements of the tibia and limits rotational knee movements, thus stabilizing the knee.

An ACL tear occurs as a result of overstretching of the ligament, which can be either partial or complete depending on the extent of damage. 

Contributing factors for ACL tears

ACL injuries can occur due to several factors, such as:

  • Sudden stops while running
  • Sudden slowing down when you are running
  • Landing incorrectly from jumps
  • Changing directions suddenly (cutting)
  • Colliding with someone else, such as a football tackle

Clinical manifestations of ACL tears

The common ACL tear symptoms include:

  • Feeling or hearing a “pop” sound in your knee
  • Swelling
  • Pain when you try to put weight on your knee
  • Buckling of the knee (a feeling like your knee has given out)
  • Compromised range of motion (ROM)

Diagnosing ACL tears

ACL tears can be diagnosed by a doctor through:

Detailed history

To determine the type of injury, duration of occurrence and the symptoms that followed. 

Physical examination 

To evaluate your knee to assess the flexibility, and range of motion. 

An anterior drawer test is the most common test to confirm an ACL tear. 

Imaging tests

To rule out other pathologies, and the involvement of adjacent structures. These include:

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound scans
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

The treatment approach to ACL tear

Treatment for ACL tears depends on the severity of the injury and your activity levels. 

For partial tears with a fairly sedentary (inactive) lifestyle

  • Your doctor will advise you to rest and apply cold packs to manage swelling and inflammation.  
  • Medications can help to alleviate pain and discomfort
  • Physical therapy and knee bracing can greatly improve your knee stability. 

For complete tears with an active lifestyle 

  • These ACL tears require surgical treatment, especially for active individuals. 
  • Arthroscopic surgery is the most common, minimally invasive procedure to repair an ACL tear. 
  • Recovery post-surgery takes around 6 months with proper care and physical therapy. 

ACL tears though common among athletes require a proper diagnosis and treatment to prevent permanent disability. 

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Carina Prinz