When you hear a pop and your knee gives way, your mind races. Will I be able to play again? Will I have a limp? How long am I going to be in rehab?
If you suspect you’ve torn your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), understanding the journey ahead can make a world of difference. With that thought in mind, here’s what you need to know about ACL injuries and what’s in store.
Understanding ACL Injuries
The ACL is one of four major knee ligaments that help stabilize the knee.
- The ACL and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) cross each other deep inside the knee, attaching the thigh bone to the shin bone. They help keep the knee from pivoting the wrong way and keep the shin bone from moving under the thigh bone.
- The medial collateral ligament (MCL), which runs vertically along the inside of the knee, and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which runs vertically on the outside, help keep the knee stable side-to-side.
ACLs are often torn by violent twisting or cutting – and unfortunately, the ACL is a ligament in the body that doesn’t repair itself. It has to be surgically reconstructed for the knee to get its stability back.
Recognizing the Signs
In addition to that sickening pop, signs of ACL injuries also include:
- Sharp pain
- Joint instability
- Restricted range of motion
If you experience any of these, and suspect you’ve hurt your ACL:
- Stop physical activity
- Ice your knee
- Elevate your leg
- Wear a knee brace
- Try not to put weight on the knee
- Get an injury evaluation from a professional
Seeking Professional Evaluation
Not every knee injury involves the ACL, and not every ACL injury needs surgery.
People can damage their meniscus or one of the other ligaments in the knee and only think they’ve torn their ACL.
However, don’t underestimate the severity of a knee injury. If you think you’ve hurt yourself, get examined by a medical professional promptly.
The healthcare professionals at Stevens Point Orthopedics or other facilities have the tools to diagnose the severity of a knee injury.
Treating an ACL injury starts with a thorough examination of the damage. Whoever’s treating you may order imaging tests like an MRI so they can get a clearer view of what’s been damaged and to what extent.
Depending on your lifestyle and the severity of your injury, they may suggest treatments like:
- Lifestyle modifications like resting your knee, avoiding painful situations, and doing gentle motion exercises
- Medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) to relieve inflammation
- Cortisone injections that target a specific spot in your knee using a powerful anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy to get your muscles and joints to work together
- Braces to stabilize your knee
However, these treatments can only get you so far. Surgery is usually recommended for complete tears of your ACL or other ligaments.
Pros and Cons of Surgery
Not everyone with a torn ACL chooses surgery, though most people do.
While ACL reconstruction can restore knee stability and function, it’s essential to weigh its advantages and disadvantages:
- Better knee stability
- Potential return to sports or high-activity lifestyles
- Reduced risk of further knee damage
- Requires significant post-surgical rehabilitation
- Potential risks associated with surgery, such as infections
One way to minimize the disadvantages is to carefully choose your surgery and rehab facility. Stevens Point Orthopedics has experienced surgeons who specialize in ACL repair and reconstruction.
The Wisconsin Performance Institute has the trained staff and high-tech equipment to generate the best possible outcomes post-surgery. WPI has an outstanding track record of working with top athletes on post-surgery rehab.
ACL reconstruction is done using a ligament or tendon graft. There are two types of graft:
- A donated ACL ligament from a cadaver (allograft), or
- Part of a ligament or tendon from your own body (autograft)
An allograft ACL reconstruction involves less surgery and lets people return faster to everyday activities. However, if you’re returning to cutting and twisting-type activities like sports, an autograft might be the better option.
Since an autograft involves more surgery, the initial recovery is slower, and you may be on crutches longer. However, with autograft ACL reconstructions you may be able to return to cutting and twisting activities like sports within 12 months after surgery.
Learn more about ACL tears and surgery here.
Rehabilitation and Recovery
The difference between an ACL tear being the end of your active life versus just being a speed bump often depends on the quality of your rehabilitation.
Let’s be honest: Rehab takes time and effort. It’s hard work. But having the right professionals to guide you using the right equipment to build strength and range of motion and monitor your progress can make a world of difference.
For the several months you spend doing rehab, it’s in your best interest to choose a facility and a professional staff that listens to your concerns and goals and works with you to get you to where you want to be.
We believe WPI is such a place, but you be the judge.
Preventing Future Injuries
Your journey doesn’t end with recovery. It’s essential to fortify yourself against future injuries.
Some of the best ways to prevent future injuries while staying active include:
- Strengthening your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Exercises include lifting weights or doing isometric exercises that use your own body weight.
- Learning proper techniques for running, planting, cutting, jumping, landing, and performing other movements that stress the knee.
- Warming up before exercise or other intensive activity.
- Wearing a knee brace during high-intensity sports.
Emotional and Psychological Impact
ACL injuries can take a toll on your mental well-being. You worked so hard to get to where you were, and now it’s all been taken from you.
Pairing up with a rehab facility that understands what you’re going through can go a long way toward getting your mind on the road to recovery.
WPI staff have been through the pain of injury and the mental anguish of rehab. They’re here to help.
Beyond that, support groups, online communities, friends, team members, and family can all be important resources as you embark on your recovery journey. Don’t be afraid to lean on them and reach out if you need help.
An ACL injury, while daunting, doesn’t signify the end of your active life. With the right approach, guidance, and determination, recovery is well within reach. Remember, every setback is a setup for a comeback. Seek professional help, lean on support systems, and always put your well-being first.