ACL Injuries - How do they occur and what are treatment options?
by Ashley Klein, PT, DPT 

ACL injuries are prominent in the sports world. They affect all types of athletes and non athletes, but they occur most often in soccer, football, and basketball. Women are more likely to experience an ACL injury than men. But what exactly is an ACL? How do you injure your ACL? If you do injure their ACL, what are your treatment options?

What is an ACL?

The anterior cruciate ligament is a diagonal ligament within your knee that connects your thigh bone (femur) to your large lower leg bone (tibia). The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding forward on the femur when performing high velocity movements. It also assists with overall stability in the knee.

How do ACL injuries occur?

An ACL injury can occur in a variety of ways, including:

  • A direct hit to the knee
  • Landing wrong after jumping
  • Abrupt stop in running
  • Planting and twisting the knee

How do you know if you injured your ACL?

Usually, a knee with an injured ACL will begin to swell significantly within 12-24 hours following injury. Some people hear a “pop” when their ACL tears.  It may be painful to walk and your injured knee will likely begin to lose range of motion. If you attempt to run or go up and down stairs, you may have feelings of instability in the knee.

How are they diagnosed?

Physical therapists or doctors diagnose most ACL injuries by performing a physical exam. Often times they compare the injured knee to the non-injured knee as well. If your physical therapist or doctor is concerned that your ACL is injured, they may recommend you have an x-ray and MRI done to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment options vary depending on the person. Sometimes ACL injuries can even heal on their own depending on the severity of injury. If you’re not planning on returning to sports or other high-level activity, bracing and physical therapy treatment can be successful for managing pain, reducing swelling, regaining range of motion, and returning you to activities without limitations.

You should seek reconstruction if you plan to return to sports or other high impact recreational activities. Following an ACL reconstruction, you’ll need to go through several months of physical therapy to return to sport.

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