Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tears
What is the ACL?
The anterior cruciate ligament, also known as the ACL, is one of four major ligaments located in the knee. The ACL runs diagonally through the knee and helps control the forward and backward movement of the joint. Specifically, the ACL prevents the tibia from moving out from the femur. ACL injuries are the most common type of knee injury. Ligament injuries are referred to as “sprains” and can be graded on a severity scale of 1-3 (grade 1 being the least amount of damage, and grade 3 being the most damage). Partial tears to the ACL are rare, most likely the injury will be a complete tear of the ligament.
Causes of ACL Injuries:
The ACL is commonly injured while playing sports, in motor vehicle accidents, and work related incidents. Most ACL injuries are actually non contact, which means that another person is not directly making contact with the injured person’s knee. ACL injuries are caused by changing directions rapidly, accelerating or making a complete stop from running. Also landing incorrectly from a jump can cause damage to the ACL, which is common in skiing and gymnastics. Direct contact or collision to the knee, which is common in football, can also cause damage to the ligament. Females are at a higher risk of injuring their ACL due to anatomical difference. Women have a difference in pelvic alignment which affects the lower extremities, and also have naturally looser ligaments compared to men.
Symptoms of ACL Injuries:
- The person will immediately hear a popping sound (which indicates a tear to the ligament)
- Intense swelling around the knee joint
- Pain and tenderness along the joint line
- Instability of the knee
- Decreased range of motion at the knee
Treatment of ACL Injuries:
ACL tears will not heal without surgery. In individuals where their activity is low, conservative treatments may be recommended depending on the grade of the tear. As long as the overall stability of the knee is present, patients can start wearing a Custom Knee Brace to ensure the knee is stabilized and start a rehabilitation program with a Physiotherapist.
If the knee is too unstable or the injury interferes with daily living, surgery is then considered. ACL reconstruction surgery is done arthroscopically which is less invasive and results in quicker recovery times. After surgery it is important to start a rehabilitation program with a Physiotherapist that will help returning the knee to its full range of motion. Once range of motion has been restored, the Physiotherapist will focus on strengthening the joint and getting back to normal activities.