One of the most commonly reported injuries to the knee is a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This type of injury is common among athletes who participate in high-energy sports. Very often, surgery is required to regain full motion of the knee again. Treatment depends on the severity of the injury.
The thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap all come together to form your knee. The kneecap lies in front of the joint. Ligaments connect these bones together. Four ligaments in the knee maintain stability and balance of these structures. The collateral ligaments are on the sides of the knee and control sideways motion. The cruciate ligaments are inside of the knee joint and cross. They control back and forth motion in the knee. The ACL runs diagonally in the knee and stops the tibia from moving and provides stability during rotation.
ACL injuries are graded by their severity:
- Grade 1 Sprain: The ligament is slightly stretched, only prompting mild damage. The knee joint remains stable.
- Grade 2 Sprain: The ligament is stretched, leaving a partial tear. The ligament is loose, resulting in a loss of stability.
- Grade 3 Sprain: This injury is typically a complete tear of the ligament, and the knee joint is unstable.
Most ACL injuries are a complete tear of the ligament.
ACL injuries can arise as a result of several occurrences. Stopping or changing directions suddenly is a common cause. Landing from a jump or any immediate direct contact can lead to injury as well. It’s more common for female athletes to suffer from ACL injuries than men.
Many patients report a popping sound and immediate loss of balance during the event of their ACL injury. Typically, there is pain, swelling, and tenderness. Your range of motion will be limited, and most patients report discomfort when walking or running.
Treatments for ACL injuries depend on the patient. A torn ACL won’t heal by itself. Nonsurgical treatment can be effective for older patients and those who are less active. Bracing or physical therapy may be recommended if your injury is less severe. A brace can help protect the knee and prevent extreme weight bearing. Physically therapy will help restore function to the knee and strengthen the leg again.
A surgical treatment typically calls for the reconstruction of the ligament. A tissue graft will be put in place of the torn ligament and allows a new ligament to grow. A graft can come from several locations, and there are different advantages from every source. It could be six months before an athlete can return to their normal activity after surgery.