Is an ACL Tear Game-Ending?

Your anterior cruciate ligament, more often called your ACL, is an important component in keeping your knee joint stable. It’s one of four tough fibers that snugly hold the bones of your knee together. 

At Orthocenter, we understand that exercise is an important factor in maintaining your health, and we know how frustrating it can be to have an injury that prevents you from participating in your favorite activity. 

However, our experts are dedicated to helping you maintain your function long-term, which is why we proceed with caution in cases of ACL tears

Why your ACL is important

If you think about what your knee joint does, you begin to understand how complex and amazing it is. Your knee does much more than simply bend, though that’s impressive enough. 

Your knee also allows you to pivot quickly; it absorbs shock when you walk, run, or jump; and it makes it possible to sit in a chair comfortably. 

Your ACL, along with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), keep your knee stable during activity. Another important structure for proper knee function is your meniscus, which is a cartilage pad — each knee has two menisci. 

It’s not uncommon to injure your MCL and your meniscus when you tear your ACL. When any of those tissues is damaged, your knee is no longer stable, furthering your risk for an even worse injury. 

What happens when you tear your ACL

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you sustain this injury is knee pain. You might also hear a popping sound. Your knee will likely begin to swell within 24 hours of the injury. You probably won’t be able to move your knee as you normally can, and you might feel like it’s going to give out at any moment. 

Children may not have all of those symptoms, and may even be able to walk or run normally. However, if you notice symptoms, you should get your child’s knee examined, as the injury could worsen. 

How ACL tears are treated

The most appropriate treatment depends on several factors, such as the extent of the tear, whether your MCL or meniscus or other tissues are also injured, or if this is your first ACL tear. Other factors are your age, the sport you play, and your overall health. 

For some people, rest, ice, compression, and elevation are appropriate. Giving the injury time to heal, learning some exercise to increase the strength of your knee, and using a knee brace are sufficient. In other situations, surgery to repair your knee is the best treatment. 

Risk of reinjury

If you’ve torn your ACL, you have about a 15% higher risk of tearing it again compared with someone who has never had this injury. The risk of reinjury is highest during the first year following your first tear. 

Notably, you even have a higher risk of tearing the ACL in your opposite knee than someone who has never torn their ACL. 

Prevention

Although it’s true that an ACL tear will put you out of the game, likely for at least a season, it doesn’t mean you’ll never get to play again. If you’re careful and diligent in following your doctor’s instructions, you can lower your risk of future injury. 

Whether you have surgery or not, doing the strengthening exercises and following your rehabilitation program is crucial. It’s also very important to return to play only when your doctor has cleared you — even if you feel good. 

If you’d like to know more about ACL tears, schedule an appointment at Orthocenter. We have three convenient locations, in Red Bank, Morganville, and Holmdel, New Jersey, and we’re happy to discuss your situation and answer your questions. 

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