ACL Injuries Q & A
What is the ACL?
The ACL or anterior cruciate ligament is a strong band of fibrous tissue located in the knee. The ligament extends across the front of the knee and plays a major role in stabilizing the joint and promoting flexibility and range of motion. ACL injuries are especially common among athletes, but they can also occur as a result of a slip-and-fall or car accident or from any sharp twisting or pivoting motion of the knee. ACL tears and sprains can also occur as a result of landing improperly after a jump. Many ACL injuries are accompanied by other soft tissue or bone injuries in the joint.
What symptoms do ACL injuries cause?
ACL injuries typically cause:
- swelling around the knee joint
- pain when placing weight on the knee
- stiffness or reduced range of motion in the knee
- feelings of instability when attempting to stand or use the knee
Often, an ACL injury is accompanied by a “popping” noise or sensation as the ligament stretches and tears.
How are ACL injuries treated?
Mild tears or sprains may respond to rest, therapy and other nonsurgical approaches, including wearing a brace and modifying physical activity to enable the area to heal. Prolotherapy using a series of injections to stimulate natural tissue healing may also be useful in some patients. Because the ACL plays such a critical role in knee joint function, many ACL injuries require surgery to correct so normal function can be restored, painful symptoms can be alleviated and future injury can be avoided. Surgery often can be performed using minimally-invasive techniques that rely on very small incisions. These techniques use an arthroscope to see inside the joint during surgery. During the procedure, the ligament may be sutured or it may be replaced using a ligament or tendon graft. Minimally-invasive techniques reduce tissue damage for faster recovery and less discomfort during healing. Following surgery, physical therapy can help restore normal function, strength, stability and flexibility in the joint. Complete recovery following surgery can take about six to nine months.