Tears or sprains to the anterior cruciate ligament are the most common knee injury, in both professional sports and casual athletes alike. Individuals participating in high demand sports expose their bodies to extreme stress. Injuries are most common among soccer, football and basketball players, all sports requiring constant support and weight bearing. An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament may require surgery to regain full range of motion and function. The severity of the injury and activity level during recovery dictate treatment outcomes.
The thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia) and kneecap (patella) all meet at the knee joint. The kneecap sits in the front of the joint providing protection for these bones. Each bone connects to the other by ligaments. These ligaments hold the bones together, to keep the knee stable. The anterior cruciate ligament runs diagonally through the middle of the knee. The ligament holds the tibia in place, preventing it from sliding in front of the femur, and also provides rotational stability to the knee.
Half of all anterior cruciate ligaments occur along with damage to other structures in the knee. The severity of injured ligaments is graded on a scale. Grade 1 sprains include mild damage to the ligament, while Grade 2 sprains stretch the ligament to the point where it becomes loose. Grade 3 sprains occur when there is a complete tear of the ligament.
During the initial injury of an anterior cruciate ligament, the individual may hear a “pop” and feel their knee give out. Within the first 24 hours, the knee will swell, and pain may arise. Individuals also report discomfort while walking and a decreased range of motion.
Treatment depends on the patient’s lifestyle, activity level and severity of the injury. A torn ACL won’t be able to heal without surgical intervention. In some cases, doctors may recommend treatment for older patients with a very low activity level. Most ACL tears cannot be sutured back together, surgical repair help restore knee stability, and reconstruct the ligament.
Rehabilitation is an essential part of recovery. Physical therapy is important for both surgical and non-surgical treatment, helping patients to regain knee strength and motion.