Athletes are no stranger to ACL tears, unfortunately. Because of their fast and sometimes unpredictable movements, it’s more likely that they will experience an ACL tear than someone who doesn’t play sports. This is especially true for athletes who participate in contact sports. After you tear your ACL, you probably have many questions. For example, can you walk with a torn ACL? How long will recovery last? What are my treatment options? We answer these questions in the following blog post.
At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, we offer a wide variety of treatment options for a wide variety of conditions and injuries. While we have immense success treating sports injuries, we also treat non-sport related injuries. No matter how you sustained your injury, we’re here to offer diagnosis and state-of-the-art treatment plans. To schedule an appointment with us, please call 469-200-2832. You can also fill out our online intake form.
Anatomy of the Knee Joint
The knee joint contains three bones: the femur, the tibia, and the patella. The patella sits at the front of the joint and forms the kneecap, which protects the joint. Ligaments connect these bones to each other. There are four of these primary ligaments in the knee which both stabilize the knee and hold it together. They act almost like ropes. If you feel a sudden, seemingly unexplained pain in the area, you may wonder what can cause knee pain without injury. The truth is that most people who suffer from knee pain do have an underlying cause.
These ligaments are on the sides of the knee. The inside ligament is the medial collateral ligament, while the outside is the lateral collateral ligament. They regulate the sideways movements of the knee and help to brace it against unnatural movements.
These ligaments are located within the knee joint. They basically cross each other and form an “X” shape. The anterior cruciate ligament crosses in the front, while the posterior cruciate ligament crosses in the back. These ligaments regulate the backward and forward movements of the knee.
What Is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament?
In the center of the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament runs at a diagonal. Its main function is to prevent the tibia from moving out in front of the femur. It also provides rotational stability to the entire knee.
How Do You Know If You Have a Torn ACL?
When you tear your ACL, you’ll probably hear and feel a popping sensation. Additionally, it is highly possible that your knee will give out beneath your weight. Below, we list other common symptoms of ACL tears.
- Swelling and pain. Usually within the first 24 hours, your knee will start to swell. Sometimes, it is possible to manage this with pain medication and allow it to resolve on its own. However, you should not return to playing sports until you see a doctor. If you do, you risk causing further damage to the joint, potentially to other parts of it.
- A loss of your full range of motion
- Tenderness along the line of the joint
- Discomfort or pain while walking
- Knee instability
Types of ACL Tears
Around half of anterior cruciate ligament injuries occur alongside damage to other structures in the knee. Examples include meniscus tears, articular cartilage injuries, and damage to other ligaments. Doctors generally refer to ligament damage as a “sprain,” and grade them according to their severity.
The ligament suffers mild damage in a Grade 1 Sprain. Generally, it is stretched slightly, but it retains its ability to stabilize the knee joint.
Grade 2 Sprains stretch the ligament to the point where it becomes loosened. This affects the movement of the knee. Doctors refer to this sprain as a partial ACL tear.
This is a complete tear of the ACL. The ligament is now split in two pieces, and it no longer stabilizes the knee joint. It is important to note that partial tears are rarer than complete or nearly complete tears. Thus, Grade 3 Sprains are more common than Grade 2 Sprains.
How to Treat an ACL Tear
The care for an ACL injury varies based on the circumstances of the patient. For example, a young athlete who participates in agility sports will almost certainly need surgery in order to return to sports comfortably. Without surgery, the less active, typically older, individual may be able to adjust to a more relaxed lifestyle.
Without surgery, an ACL tear will not mend. Nonsurgical therapy, on the other hand, may be useful in people who are old or have a limited level of activity. If the knee’s general stability is preserved, your doctor may suggest nonsurgical treatments.
- Braces: A brace may be recommended by your doctor to safeguard your knee against instability. Crutches may be prescribed to restrict you from placing weight on your leg, further protecting your knee.
- Physical therapy: A cautious rehabilitation regimen is undertaken once the edema has subsided. Your knee will regain function and the leg muscles that sustain it will be strengthened through specific workouts.
Sutures, or stitches, cannot be used to repair most ACL tears. The ACL must be surgically repaired and rebuilt to restore stability to the knee. A tissue transplant will be used to repair your injured ligament. This graft serves as a foundation for the growth of a new ligament.
Grafts are available from a variety of sources. The patellar tendon, which extends between the patella and the femur, is frequently used. Grafts are frequently taken from the hamstring tendons at the rear of the thigh. The quadriceps tendon, which connects the kneecap to the thigh, is sometimes employed. Alternatively, an allograft cadaver transplant can be employed.
An arthroscope is used to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament through tiny incisions. Arthroscopic knee surgery is less intrusive than traditional surgery. Less intrusive procedures have the advantages of shorter pain from surgery, less time in the hospital, and faster recovery periods.
How Soon Can You Walk With a Torn ACL?
For a mild injury, we usually recommend wearing a brace or other mobility device, like a cane or crutches, to help with walking. The amount of time it will take to regain the ability to walk unaided depends on the severity of the injury. It also depends on how well you respond to physical therapy.
There is no defined length of time for a complete recovery after surgery. Physical rehabilitation might begin during the first week after surgery. Sport-specific exercises, such as jumping, may be introduced to the program after 12 to 16 weeks if you’re an athlete. Athletes who react well to rehabilitation can usually resume regular exercise 6 to 9 months after surgery.
However, one-third of athletes will experience another ACL tear within two years of surgery. Many specialists believe that a longer healing time reduces the likelihood of re-injury.
What Causes ACL Tears?
These injuries occur in a number of different ways. Below, we include the most common ways.
- Rapid changes of directions
- Sudden stopping
- Slowing quickly while running
- Incorrectly landing after a jump
- Collisions or direct contact, as in sports
In several sports, female athletes had a greater incidence of ACL damage than male players, according to many studies. This might be attributed to variations in physical training, muscle strength, and muscle coordination, according to some theories. Differences in pelvic and lower limb alignment, enhanced ligament laxity, and the influence of estrogen on ligament characteristics are all possible reasons.
Risk Factors for ACL Tears
The following are some of the factors that enhance your chances of hurting your ACL.
- Specific sports, like skiing, soccer, football, and basketball
- Playing sports on artificial turf
- A lack of physical conditioning
- Ill-fitting equipment, like shoes or ski bindings
Women are more prone than men to sustain ACL injuries. It’s considered that hormonal factors, as well as variances in muscle strength and morphology, are to blame.
Contact SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy Today
In short, we do not recommend walking on an injured or torn ACL too soon after sustaining an injury. In many cases, this results in a more painful injury with a longer recovery period. If you suspect you have an ACL tear, SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy stands ready to help you on your path to full recovery. No matter the severity of your injury, we have the tools and experience necessary to treat you. In some cases, you’ll just need help from one of our Dallas physical therapists. In others, we’ll recommend that you speak with our orthopedic specialist Dallas. To schedule an appointment with us, please call 469-200-2832 or fill out our online intake form.