If you're experiencing knee pain, and think it could be something more serious than normal wear and tear, you might be suffering from a tear in your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
We asked Melonie Haney MS, AT, an athletic trainer with TriHealth Sports Medicine, what you need to know about ACL tears, including how to prevent them.
#1: What is an ACL Tear?
“ACL tears usually happen with some kind of excessive bending or twisting motion,” Melonie explains. “This can happen with or without contact.” This injury is most prevalent in sports like football, soccer, basketball and skiing.
Most people do not learn they have damaged their ACL until they seek medical evaluation. Therefore, Melonie stresses the importance of seeing your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and rule out other injuries, like a torn meniscus.
Symptoms of an ACL injury include:
- A “popping” sound at the time of injury
- Knee swelling
- Instability with the injured leg
While some people with an ACL injury experience pain while bearing weight, this is not always the case. "For example, a complete ACL tear may not have a lot of pain associated with it," Melonie explains. "It all depends."
#2: I’ve Damaged My ACL: What’s Next?
Once your doctor has confirmed that you’ve torn or damaged your ACL, treatment will either consist of rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility and function, or surgery. “You may need surgery to repair the ligament and then do rehabilitation, but it’s important to note that not all ACL tears or injuries require surgery,” Melonie points out.
#3: I’ve Torn My ACL: How Long Will I be Out?
Melonie says: “It depends. It depends on the course of treatment and the physician who is treating the patient.” Recovery also varies from patient to patient. Some recover faster than others, depending on how quickly they regain motion, strength, flexibility, stability and function.
#4: How Can I Prevent An ACL Injury?
Make sure your knee muscles, especially your quadriceps, are strong, Melonie suggests. Similarly, you should make sure your knee muscles are flexible. If you have knee issues or have already damaged that area, she recommends staying away from contact sports that involve a lot of twisting motions.