Understanding ACL Injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament, known as the ACL for short, is one of two crucial ligaments that helps to stabilize the knee and control joint movements. The two ligaments cross inside of the knee. And as the name suggests, the ACL is in the front. When the ligament is injured, the damage can be either partial or complete. Usually, sudden moves like pivoting sharply or quick stops as seen in sports like football or soccer, are common culprits. But depending on the severity of the injury, not all patients will require surgery to heal the ACL fully.

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Complete versus partial injuries

The biggest factor that determines whether a person will need surgery to treat an ACL tear is whether the injury is determined to be partial or complete. Partial injuries mean that the ligament didn’t fully tear whereas a complete tear is considered more severe. Still, depending on the patient’s history and activity level, not everyone is a good candidate for ACL reconstruction surgery. Often, the best candidates for surgery are patients with an ACL tear combined with other knee injuries. Additionally, knee instability will also be a strong determinant of whether or not a patient should consider surgery.

Nonsurgical ACL treatment

In most cases, unless underlying instability issues are discovered, a person with a partial tear isn’t normally considered a candidate for reconstructive surgery. Other people that are better candidates for nonsurgical solutions include people without stability issues, athletes who choose to end participating in high-demand sports, people with sedentary lifestyles and young children.

Nonsurgical treatment for partial ACL tears

Depending on the severity of a partial ACL tear, patients have a wide range of options to treat the injury. One of the most popular options is to engage in progressive physical therapy along with rehabilitation. Along with boosting mobility and strengthening the knee, this method also ensures that patients learn how to stabilize the knee when moving to prevent further injuries properly. Additionally, using a hinged knee brace can also be helpful.

Surgical ACL reconstruction

While repairing a torn ligament used to be a common solution, most orthopedic surgeons no longer recommend the method as results were inconsistent and repeated ACL tears were possible. Instead, reconstructive surgery usually focuses on replacing the torn ACL by inserting a graft or a new ligament made from tissue. The graft can be created from the patient’s tissue or through a donor. Usually, the tendon is the most popular option. In general, reconstructive ACL surgeries tend to have favorable outcomes, making the treatment a good option for active athletes who won’t quit a sport.

Recovery outlook

Whether a patient opts for surgical or nonsurgical treatment of an ACL tear, physical therapy will be a critical component to regaining stability and understanding how to better control movements to prevent future injuries. Likewise, serious athletes seeking surgery to regain mobility and return to activity should work closely with rehabilitation specialists to ensure the best possible outcomes. Athletes and other individuals concerned with ACL tear recovery should speak with a doctor to understand treatment options.

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