ACL injuries: One of Athletes’ Biggest Fears

shutterstock_46338700By: Sarah McWilliams

What is it?

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is the main stabilizer of the knee. The ligament is activated often in athletics when you plant your foot, change directions and/or stop and go. This ligament essentially holds the knee together. It’s a large ligament that runs through the center of the knee.  Because of the high use of this ligament in sports, ACL tears plague all sorts of athletes.

Who’s at risk?

Women are at a higher risk than men for ACL tears because of the difference in the structure of the female body.  ACL tears are typically a non-contact injury and so many different types of athletes are at risk of this injury. Basketball, skiing, soccer, and football all have a high incidence of ACL tears.

shutterstock_126161288What are the symptoms?

Some people say they heard a loud pop and felt acute pain at the time of the injury. Other symptoms of an ACL tear may include swelling, tenderness, pain and the inability to use the joint.  There are three grades of tears for an ACL injury and the symptoms tend to be more severe the higher the grade. Grade 1 may only be a strain or minimal tear and the athlete won’t lose function in the knee. A Grade 2 tear is only a partial tear with minimal loss of function. A Grade 3 tear is a complete tear of the tendon with major loss of function.

shutterstock_107498642How do you diagnose this type of injury?

Your health care provider will do an MRI to diagnose this injury. It’s important to see your doctor immediately and not try to continue putting weight on the knee if you suspect an injury. Continuing to use the joint could exacerbate the injury further.

What are the treatment options?

ACL tears often are combined with other injuries. It’s not uncommon to tear the meniscus or MCL at the same time the ACL is torn. While there are non-surgical options, such as intense physical therapy, most doctors recommend having surgery to repair the ligament.

How long is the recovery period?

shutterstock_136666142The recovery time for an ACL tear is dependent of the level of physical ability prior to the tear as well as the sport you’re trying to get back in. A professional athlete who is in good health typically can recover quicker because they are able to dedicate more time to physical therapy.  A safe recovery time is typically around six months; however a new understanding of ligaments in the knee may aid in recovery.

Commonly mistaken injuries

An ACL tear may often be confused with other ligament tears in the knee like the MCL.

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