An Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury refers to damage to the ligament in the knee joint that helps stabilise and control movement. Ligament injuries are classified as sprains and are categorised according to their severity:
Grade 1: This is the least severe category, involving a slight stretching of the ligament without significant compromise to the joint’s stability.
Grade 2: Often termed a partial tear, a grade 2 sprain occurs when the ligament is stretched beyond its natural limits, causing it to become overly lax.
Grade 3: Referred to as a complete ligament tear, a grade 3 sprain arises when the ligament is either severed in two or torn away from the bone. This results in an unstable knee joint.
ACL injuries are often accompanied by damage to other knee components, such as cartilage and the meniscus. Partial tears of the ACL are relatively uncommon; typically, injuries to the ACL result in complete or nearly complete tears.
An ACL injury can cause sudden knee instability, sometimes accompanied by a popping sound at the time of the injury. Swelling, pain, and an inability to fully extend the knee are common symptoms that may appear within 24 hours of the injury. Loss of range of motion, tenderness along the joint line, and discomfort while walking are also indicators of an ACL injury.
ACL injuries can occur during activities that involve sudden changes in direction, abrupt stops, quick deceleration while running, incorrect landing from a jump, or direct contact or collision, such as a tackle. Athletes participating in high-intensity sports like soccer, basketball, and football are particularly prone to ACL injuries. Female athletes, in particular, have a higher risk of ACL injury due to factors like physical conditioning, muscle power, neuromuscular control, hormonal influence, and lower body alignment.
Treatment for an ACL injury depends on the individual’s needs and lifestyle. In cases where the injury is mild and the patient is less physically active or older, recovery without surgery may be possible. Rest, physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are common non-surgical approaches to managing pain and swelling and regaining knee function.
However, the decision between surgery and non-surgical treatment should be made after consulting with a healthcare professional.
ACL reconstruction surgery involves drilling precise tunnels in the tibia and femur bones to implant a graft that replaces the torn ligament. Different types of grafts, such as autografts (using the patient’s tissue) or allografts (using donor tissue), can be used. The graft is secured with screws, buttons, or other fixation devices. Post-operative care may include a brace, cold therapy, and physical therapy. Most patients can return home on the same day as the surgery.
To learn more about ACL Reconstruction, as well as what you can expect prior to, during, and after surgery, please visit our ACL Reconstruction page.