Overview – What is an ACL?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sits inside the knee to keep the joint stable. It is one of four ligaments of the knee. Without this ligament, different knee movements would not be possible.

The ACL connects the tibia to the femur, working in sequence with another ligament called the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Together, ACL and PCL allow your knee to move back and forth.

Sports that require abrupt changes in direction increase the risk of ACL tears. Examples include basketball, soccer, and football. However, some people tear their ACL through direct contact to the knee.

In this article, we will cover the signs and symptoms of ACL tears, as well as the available treatment options for this condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of a torn ACL?

An ACL tear presents with some classic symptoms that can be severe enough to debilitate the patient.

Some of these signs and symptoms include:

  • Popping sound –when the ACL gets torn, a popping sound comes out of the knee.
  • Edema –an ACL tear is generally followed by rapid swelling of the knee joint.
  • Instability –feeling that the knee is giving out underneath you is a sign of ACL tear.
  • Inability to walk –the affected joint may make it impossible to walk.
  • Pain –severe pain is the most commonly described symptom of an ACL tear. It will become worse if you try to stand up. Note that some people only experience mild pain. Regardless, it will most likely originate from the center of the knee.

How can you treat a torn ACL?

After confirming the diagnosis of ACL tear via imaging techniques (e.g., MRI), it is time for treatment.

If the tear is not complete, the RICE approach may be sufficient. This includes Resting, applying Ice, Compressing the knee, and Elevating the affected side.

To compress the knee, your doctor may suggest wearing a brace for a while.

Complete ACL tears or those with severe symptoms may need a more robust management plan. This becomes more important when other structures of the knee get injured. For instance, 50% of all ACL injuries are accompanied by other lesions to knee components (e.g., meniscus, ligaments).

In reality, most patients with ACL tears will only recover after surgery. The doctor will repair the tear to restore stability and function. Make sure to ask your surgeon about the possibility of arthroscopic surgery.

This procedure uses a scope to look inside the knee capsule and the instruments to repair the tear.

Takeaway message

ACL tears are very common injuries that occur mostly in basketball, football, and soccer athletes. However, regular people can also develop this injury, especially after direct trauma (e.g., car accidents, direct falls).

We hope that this article managed to simply the clinical presentation and treatments of torn ACL.

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Disclaimer:  This information is provided as an educational service only, and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.  Anyone seeking specific medical advice or assistance should consult his or her doctor or orthopedic surgeon.