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How to Know if You Tore Your ACL and Treatment Options

man running, torn ACL

We’ve all pushed ourselves a little too hard at some point and reaped the consequences. Back aches, knee pain, sore shoulders – you name it. Sprained, over-stretched, and straining muscles are very common, especially in your legs, back, and shoulders. When it comes to your knees, though, how do you know if it’s just a strain or if it’s something worse?

We’ll go over how you can tell if your knee pain is just a strain or if it is more serious like a torn ACL. We’ll also go over what is a torn ACL, as well as ACL tear treatment.

What is a Torn ACL? 

An ACL injury is a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament. This is the band of tissues that connect your femur (thigh bone) to your tibia (shin bone). So how do you tear your ACL? The good news is that a torn ACL isn’t usually an everyday injury. They typically occur during sports or exercises that involve sudden stops or changes in direction and jumping and landing.

Chances are, if you hurt your knee while you weren’t doing those activities, you likely don’t have a torn ACL. You should still check with your primary physician to be sure.

If you did hurt your knee while running or jumping, here’s what you should look out for:

  • A “popping” sensation during the time of injury
  • Severe pain
  • Rapid swelling
  • Loss of range of motion
  • A feeling of instability or "giving way" with weight bearing

If any of those happened, you may have torn your ACL. Get it checked out by your doctor. To confirm your diagnosis and find out if you’ve suffered more injuries, your doctor may request an X-ray or MRI.

If they come back with the news that it is a torn ACL, here’s what you can expect.

ACL Tear Treatment 

Not all torn ACLs are the same. There are levels of severity.

A Grade 1 sprain is only mild damage to the ligament, and it can keep your knee stable. This may not require surgery and may heal on its own with rest.

A Grade 2 sprain is a partial tear that may require surgery to repair.

Grade 3 is a full tear with will require surgery to repair. Most ACL injuries are either Grade 2 or Grade 3.

What to Expect with ACL Surgery

Arthroscopic ACL repair surgery is less invasive and allows for faster recovery. In an ACL reconstruction, the damaged ligament is replaced with a tissue graft and anchored to your bone. There are two ways to do this: an allograft, or an autograft.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which graft is best suited for you. Your doctor will evaluate your condition and will recommend the right treatment plan for you.

Recovery time depends on your goals. You will be up and walking around like normal in no time, but it may take 6-9 months before your ACL is ready to safely handle sports and sport-related movements like cuts and pivots again. You will also likely have to undergo physical therapy to help strengthen your joints.

Getting Better Without ACL Surgery

Though uncommon, Grade 1 and Grade 2 ACL tears may not require surgery. Your knee may be able to heal without surgery through one or more of these treatments:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain
  • Crutches to assist you in walking until the swelling and pain are gone
  • Knee brace to provide stability
  • Physical therapy that will improve your motion and strength

Understand that ACLs do not regenerate or heal on their own. If you have a partial tear, scar tissue will form to connect the tear with your ligament, which can cause complications in the future.

Complications with ACL Tears

People who experience an ACL injury, especially those who do not have surgery or under physical therapy, have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee. Arthritis may occur even if you have surgery to reconstruct the ligament.

How to Prevent a Torn ACL

There isn’t a concrete way to prevent ACL injuries, but you can reduce your risks. ACL injuries happen when you plant your foot one way, and your knee turns in the opposite direction. Therefore, you should avoid doing that whenever possible.

You can also reduce your risk by keeping your knees strong. Daily exercise can help keep your ligaments flexible and durable. Don’t overwork yourself though. Listen to your body and rest when you need to further prevent risk of injury.

If you have any concerns about your knees, have questions about your ACL and how to prevent tears, or want to schedule a consultation for your knees, visit us online or give us a call today at (212-737-3301!



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