An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a tear in the ACL ligament. The ACL is located in the middle of the knee joint. It connects the lower leg bone to the thigh bone. It stabilizes the knee and prevents the lower leg bone from sliding too far forward at the knee.
ACL tears or injuries occur when your knee gets twisted or during a hard landing from a jump. It can also happen with:
Sudden stops or changes in direction
Sidestepping or pivoting
ACL injuries are more common in women. Other factors that increase your chance of ACL tears or injuries include:
Weak knee structure
Muscle strength imbalance between the quadriceps and hamstrings
Playing sports that require sudden changes of direction and deceleration
Use of incorrect technique for cutting, planting, pivoting, or jumping
Previous injury or reconstructive ACL surgery
Symptoms of ACL tears may include:
A popping sound at the time of the injury
Pain and swelling in the knee
Loss of full range of motion
Weakness or instability in the knee
You will be asked about your symptoms and how you injured the knee. A physical exam will be done.
Your knee will need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Ligament sprains are graded according to their severity:
Grade 1—Mild ligament damage
Grade 2—Partial tearing of the ligament
Grade 3—Complete tearing of the ligament
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of the injury. Physical Therapy treatment for ACL tears may include:
Exercises to help promote recovery. Specifically, therapists will design a program to strengthen the whole leg as well improve its range of motion.
Balance exercises to allow you to return to your daily activities (including work and sports) while decreasing your risk of falling and reinjuring yourself
Hands-on treatment to keep your knee joint from becoming stiff
Ice and vasopneumatic pressure to reduce any swelling and pain
To reduce your chance of injuring the ACL, take these steps:
Plyometrics, a form of jumping exercises, can be used to train and strengthen the leg muscles for jumping and landing.
When jumping and landing or turning and pivoting, your hips and knees should be bent, not straight.
Strengthen both the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
Maintain proper technique when exercising or playing sports.
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American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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