ACL tears are common in physical activities that involve quick stops, changes in direction, or direct contact with the knee. Knowing the symptoms of ACL tears can help you recognize an injury and prevent it from getting worse. Explore our guide to learn how to tell if an ACL is torn and the procedures a knee specialist can perform to help you get back on your feet faster.
Signs & Symptoms of ACL Injuries
Individuals who suffer an ACL tear often note an audible “pop” or snapping sound as the injury happens. The onset of symptoms is immediate and usually accompanied by:
- Decreased range of motion in the knee
- Rapid swelling
- Severe pain, soreness, and tenderness along the joint
- Instability and discomfort while walking
ACL injuries usually occur during sports and fitness activities that can put stress on the knee. This includes movements like:
- Pivoting with your foot firmly planted
- Suddenly slowing down and changing direction
- Stopping suddenly
- Landing awkwardly from a jump
- Receiving a direct blow to the knee
There are three levels of ACL injuries, which are classified by the amount of damage to the ligament (partial or complete tear). A grade 1 sprain, for example, is when the ACL is stretched but not ruptured. While a grade 3 sprain means the ACL is torn into two pieces, rendering the joint completely unstable.
When To Seek Treatment
If you are experiencing symptoms of an ACL tear, you should schedule an appointment with a knee specialist. They will conduct a physical exam in order to determine the extent of the injury. An X-ray may also be performed to assess if there is damage to the surrounding bone, but MRI will ultimately be the deciding factor in treatment.
Rehabilitation can be the first step in the recovery process with the goal of regaining full range of motion. You may spend several weeks working with a physical therapist who will develop a custom exercise program centered around your unique needs and symptoms.
However, ACL reconstruction surgery is often recommended if the ligament is injured or the injury is causing your knee to buckle during everyday activities. During the procedure, a surgeon will remove the damaged ligament and replace it with a new segment of tendon which recreates the ACL. This replacement tissue — called a graft — can be taken from your own patellar, hamstring, quadricep, or cadaver tendons.
The surgery is typically done using a minimally invasive, arthroscopic approach. Special surgical tools and a video camera are inserted through small incisions in the knee joint. The graft is then secured to the tibia (shin bone) and femur (thighbone) using sutures (special surgical thread) or screws depending on the type of graft. This acts as a bridge for the new ligament to grow on and reconnect the bones.
Recovery time varies based on the severity of the injury. Your doctor will recommend physical therapy in order to regain full range of motion, strength, and stability in the affected knee in the weeks and months that follow. Regular follow-up visits with your knee specialist and physical therapists are necessary to assess progress and readiness to return to your favorite activities.
Understanding the common symptoms of ACL tears can help reduce the risk of injury while playing your favorite sports. If you find yourself with pain or injury, CompOrtho offers top-level care to help you get on the road to recovery quicker. To learn more about injury prevention or make an appointment, contact us today!