ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) ruptures or tears are very common.
In fact, it is so prevalent that it affects as much as 250,000 individuals annually.
And that’s in the United States alone.
People who are involved in sports are more susceptible to ACL injuries.
An ACL injury can happen as a result of the following:
- Single-leg landings
- Twisting force (especially when the individual lands on only one foot)
- Direct trauma (prevalent in contact sports)
ACL injuries can be very painful.
Many individuals who experience ACL injuries will hear or feel a “pop” in the knee when it happens.
After which, a feeling of instability often follows.
ACL injuries will not only make it difficult for patients to engage in athletic activities, it will also make even the basic of movements like walking down the stairs challenging.
While ACL injuries can happen to anyone, certain factors can put people at a higher risk.
Some of the risk factors include:
- Gender –females are more prone to ACL injuries compared to males
- Age – many cases of ACL tears can occur between the ages of 15 to 45. This can be due to leading an active lifestyle and higher participation in sports.
- Single-leg pivoting, landings, and cutting – a big percentage of ACL injuries (a whopping 70 percent) can be the result of sudden decelerations (i.e. pivoting, cutting, and landing on one leg).
- Direct blow on the knee or outside the leg – ACL injuries that occur from contact are often attributed to direct blows to the knee when it is slighly bent inward or hyper-extended.
Individuals suffering from severe ACL tears will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Deep pain in the knee
- Restricted motion range (difficulty in straightening the affected knee is also noticeable)
- Instability (can be evident when doing activities that put strain and stress on the affected area like pivoting or walking down the stairs)
- Affected area may feel warm when touched (can be the result of bleeing within the knee joints)
Pain and swelling may disappear on its own after several weeks even without proper medical attention but instability will often linger in many cases.
Those with ACL injuries might also experience difficulty when going downstairs or when standing up from a sitting position.
While surgery may be recommended in some cases, not everyone who has an ACL injury will require surgery.
Before surgery is suggested, certain factors like activity level, age, and other injuries will be taken into consideration.
Those who are involved in activities or sports that will not require drastic turns or stops (i.e. swimming and cycling) and those who are not experiencing any instability often become candidates for non-invasive treatment interventions.
Non-surgical interventions are often supervised by a physical therapist.
Primary goals of the treatment will include maximizing balance, strength, and body positioning (proprioception).
Recovery from Surgery
Patients who have surgery will need post-operative rehabilitation in order to maximize long-term healing.
Main focus will be placed on proprioception, core strength, balance, and range of motion.
Aside from physical therapy programs, home exercise programs might also be suggested.
In many cases, athletes can already return to their chosen sports after 6 to 12 months from the operation.
To play safe, it would be best to check with the doctor as to when it is safe to perform routine activities again.
Checking with an orthopaedic specialist is recommended as performing activities prematurely might prove counterproductive as the ACL graft might be compromised.