Torn ACL Symptoms and Treatment Options for Active People
The Torn ACL - Symptoms, Options, and Recovery
Knee injuries are very commonplace among active lifestyle and particularly ski and snowboard enthusiasts. Team Sterett should know— we treat a high number of these injuries every year. While they vary in type and severity, the dreaded torn ACL is traditionally the scariest to the active, sports-minded, population.
What Exactly is the ACL?
The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of the four major ligaments in the knee and it attaches your femur (thigh) to your tibia (lower leg). Its purpose is to maintain stability in the knee during lateral movements. When performing actions that require the knee to rotate and twist, the ACL prevents your knee from sliding out of place.
How do you know if you’ve torn your ACL?
ACL injuries are usually caused by a sudden twisting or pivoting in the knee, resulting in a loud popping sound followed by pain, stiffness and swelling. Upon initial injury, your best course of action is to make an appointment with a physician or orthopaedic surgeon.
What can you do in the meantime?
Until your appointment, you should follow the R.I.C.E. protocol: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Stay off of the injured knee, keep it elevated, maintain pressure on the knee (to reduce swelling) and ice it for 20 minutes at a time at least 3 times a day.
You tore your acl. So now what?
If the doctor determines you’ve torn your ACL, you’re going to require reconstructive surgery to repair it if you wish to continue your athletics. Some individuals choose not to repair the knee; this is only an option if you no longer wish to continue competitive sports. There are three different surgery options to repair an ACL tear. The treatment that’s best for you depends on your physical needs and abilities and should be discussed with your doctor.
What are the options for reconstructing a torn ACL?
Hamstring graft - Using a small piece of your hamstring to replace your ACL
Patellar Tendon graft - taking the Patellar Tendon from your good knee to replace ACL
Quad tendon graft - using a tendon from the quadriceps to replace the ACL. (This technique is growing in popularity due to recent positive results.)
Cadaver graft (allograft) Use a cadaver ligament provided by an organ donor to replace ACL
For all these graft options, the recovery time is comparable but will vary from patient to patient depending on the amount of damage in the knee. The following is a general recovery timeline for ACL reconstructive surgery:
2 weeks to begin walking without crutches
1 month to begin gentle bike riding
4 months to begin light jogging
6 months to full return including sports
1 year for full recovery
If you have an ACL tear, take it easy. You should fully recover!
While you’re able to perform any activity you desire by 6 months, it’s advised that you take it very lightly and consult your doctor before returning to any activity. Most patients report feeling back to 100% a full year after surgery.