The anterior cruciate ligament – the ACL – is the part of your knee that connects the bones of your legs and allows stability and flexibility of movement in the joint. People who play sports or participate in activities that involve jumping, pivoting or quickly changing direction are most at risk for an ACL tear. There is more than one treatment option for ACL tears; surgery is not always necessary to recover from an ACL injury. Here’s what you need to know about options should you experience an ACL tear.
ACL Tear – what is it?
The ACL ensures your knee has full range of motion while also providing stability. ACLs most often occur when you are trying to pivot or rotate your knee but your foot stays stationary. An ACL tear is a very common – and often debilitating – injury in both athletes and active people. ACL tears can also occur when someone has collided with something or someone, or when their heel or foot slips unexpectedly.
Treatment Depends on the Patient
Your orthopedist will determine the kind and extent of your injury via imaging techniques. Should an ACL be confirmed, the treatment you receive will depend on several patient-specific factors.
- Degree of the tear – If the ACL is partially torn, the treatment options usually are quite conservative, including rest, bracing and physical therapy. A full tear will require more intense treatment.
- Other Injury – Approximately half of complete ACL tears occur with some other knee injury. If the ACL tear is accompanied by additional injuries, such as a fracture, damage to the tendons or the meniscus (shock-absorbing cartilage), surgery may be the best way to restore knee function.
- Age – Surgery to reconstruct the ACL is usually not performed on patients older than 55. Children who are still growing should also avoid ACL surgery, which can damage the growth plate.
- Use – People who are extremely active, play physically demanding sports or use their knees for their jobs are more likely to benefit from surgery.
Once the nature and extent of the ACL tear is confirmed, your orthopedist will determine a treatment plan that may be as simple as resting to undergoing reconstructive surgery. Here is more about treatment options.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications are often recommended to reduce the swelling and inflammation that causes pain.
- Ice, applied immediately after the injury and thereafter, will reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Physical Therapy. Physical therapy after the injury reduces pain and swelling and increases range of motion, whether your doctor thinks you are a good candidate for reconstructive surgery or not. If ACL reconstruction is done on a stiff knee without full range of motion, the patient is less likely to recover full use of the knee.
- Knee Braces and Crutches. If physical therapy and rehab help the patient regain use of the knee with most of its strength and stability, surgery may not necessary. Your doctor may recommend a knee brace and crutches for added stability and prevention of reinjury. Without demanding physical activity, many people live without pain with a torn ACL.
Surgical procedures to repair a torn partial or full ACL are minimally invasive and performed in an outpatient facility under general anesthesia. The orthopedic surgeon removes the torn ligament and replaces it with a length of tendon taken either from another part of your knee (patellar tendon), hamstring, or a cadaver. This new tendon is called a graft and is positioned and secured in place for your own new tendon tissue to grow over. When followed by physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize the surrounding muscles and tendons, ACL reconstruction has proven to be highly successful in restoring a patient’s knee function and range of motion.
Orthopedic Physicians in Northern New York
ACL injuries can be extremely painful and are one of the most common conditions seen by an orthopedist. While many ACL injuries can be mild and treated with rest and therapy, a complete tear may require surgery to repair it.
North Country Orthopaedic Group is proud to serve Northern New York from its Watertown, NY facility. As the oldest and largest orthopedic practice in the area, our board-certified surgeons and physiatrist have helped patients with all kinds of injuries to recover. North Country Orthopaedic Group offers a one-stop-shop with both imaging and physical therapy onsite. If you have an ACL tear or any other orthopedic injury, call North County Orthopaedic Group (315) 782-1650 for an appointment today.