Sports injuries: Every athlete dreads them. Because of the complexity of the joint, knees are especially vulnerable to injury during physical activity. One of the most common types of knee injury is a stretched or torn ACL. Here’s everything you need to know about ACL injuries.

What is the ACL, and What Does it Do?

ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament. It’s a band of tissue in your knee that connects your thigh bone to your shin bone. It also helps keep your knee joint stable.

Unfortunately, this ligament is prone to stretching and tearing. ACL knee injuries typically occur while playing contact and non-contact sports.

 

Your Knee’s Anatomy

The ACL is not the only ligament in your knee. A pair of ligaments called the collateral ligaments run along the inside and outside of your knee. Collateral ligaments control the side to side motion of your knee joint. Your ACL is located inside your knee joint, as is your posterior cruciate ligament. This ligament pair crosses each other, controlling the back and forth motion of your knee.

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, other parts of the knee are damaged in about half of ACL injuries. This includes injuries to other ligaments and to cartilage.

Symptoms of ACL Injury

Many athletes experience ACL stretching or tearing when they come down from a jump, change direction, or over-extend their knees. Symptoms usually include:

  • Hearing and feeling a pop in the knee
  • Knee swelling
  • Knee pain, which can be intense
  • Inability to put weight on the injured knee

Common ACL Injuries

Not every ACL injury is the same. An injury to a ligament is called a sprain. If you have an ACL injury, your doctor will determine the severity of your sprain. Grade 1 sprains are usually not too severe and may involve stretching of the ligament. Grade 2 sprains, also called partial disruptions, usually involve some tearing. Grade 3 sprains are the most severe and are called complete disruptions. In this case, the ligament is completely torn. Surgery is usually recommended for grade 3 sprains, and sometimes for grade 2.

 

Who is Most Likely to Get an ACL Injury?

Interestingly, recent research has shown that women are two to ten times more likely to injure their ACL than men. Why? Researchers cite a number of factors, including hormones, anatomy differences, and differences in the way women move.

ACL injuries are also more common in some sports than others. According to a 2013 survey of high school athletes, the most common sports for ACL injury were girl’s soccer, football, and girl’s basketball. Many people also sustain ACL injuries while skiing.

 

Types of ACL Reconstruction Surgery

Depending on your age and the severity of your injury, your doctor may recommend knee surgery. This usually involves grafting the tendon to the torn ligament. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists four types of surgical procedures for ACL:

  • Patellar Tendon Autograft
  • Hamstring Tendon Autograft
  • Quadriceps Tendon Autograft
  • Allografts

The difference between autografts and allografts is that autografts use tendons from your own body, while allografts are taken from cadavers. Your surgeon will recommend the best type of ACL surgery for your injury and lifestyle.

 

Recovery from ACL Surgery: What to Expect

Before ACL surgery, patients will need to undergo pre-surgical care. This usually involves physical therapy to help prepare your knee–and the surrounding muscles–for surgery.

After surgery, you will need more physical therapy to restore normal functioning in your knee. You can expect to wear a brace for five or six weeks after your surgery. You may also need to use crutches. It can take up to 24 weeks for your knee to fully heal. Following your physical therapy plan is very important to the success of your surgery. If you have any questions about the way your body is healing or when you can return to normal activities, your physical therapist will be happy to help.

 

Getting an ACL injury is no fun. But knowing more about the ACL can help you understand your injury. Stick to your physical therapy plan, and you’ll feel better faster.

For questions about ACL physical therapy or to make an appointment, contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation at (570)208-2787 or email cawleyptfrank@gmail.com. Our friendly staff is here to help you heal.

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