The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a band of tough, fibrous tissue inside the knee joint and it’s purpose is to stabilize the knee. Landing awkwardly from a jump. Sports like skiing, soccer football and basketball often put people at a higher risk for an ACL injury.
If you are diagnosed with an ACL injury your treatment will depend on the severity of the injury and how active you hope to be in the future. Not every ACL injury will need surgical repair, however, for severe injuries or injuries in young active individuals, surgery is often necessary to repair or reconstruct the ligament.
Diagnosing An ACL injury
If you have injured your knee, you should see your orthopedic specialist for a thorough evaluation. Common symptoms that may indicate you have an ACL injury may include a popping sound at the time of the injury, swelling, instability in the knee, or inability to put weight on the joint.
Your doctor will perform a physical evaluation, take x-rays and may order an MRI that will allow them to see the ligaments inside the knee to help get an accurate diagnosis. The initial focus after an ACL injury is to reduce pain and swelling. Rest, ice, and elevation can be helpful in reducing pain. Rest with your knee elevated above heart level and put ice on your knee 3-5 times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time. Keep a thin cloth between the ice and your skin, to protect the skin. Your doctor will advise you about bearing weight on your injured knee, Often crutches are used to reduce stress on your knee, by eliminating weight and that helps reduce the pain and may also aid in healing.
When surgery is needed to repair or reconstruct the ACL, your surgeon will use a graft of new tissue to repair or replace and reconstruct the torn ligament. This graft may be a ligament or tendon from your own knee. To reconstruct your ACL, your doctor will use minimally-invasive techniques, such as arthroscopy, which utilizes a tiny camera to let your doctor see inside the joint. Tools are inserted through small incisions and are used to repair the joint. ACL surgery is an outpatient surgery, so most patients go home the same day.
Whether or not you have surgery, rehabilitation exercises will be a very important of recovery after an ACL injury. Therapy is important to regain flexibility, increase strength, reduce pain, and prevent other knee problems in the future. Physical therapy will begin shortly after surgery and will include light exercises to maintain your movement and range of motion. In many cases, you may use a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine to continuously flex and extend the knee and helps keep it from getting stiff. As you progress in your recovery, exercises will be added to strengthen the muscles that support your knee.