An ACL tear is one of the most common injuries we see in sports medicine. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the four main stabilizing ligaments of the knee. Ligaments are the soft tissues that connect our joints. If one or more of the ligaments around a joint is torn the joint may become unstable.
How does the ACL tear?
This injury most commonly occurs when someone either lands from a jump or pivots while running. The gliding and rotation that occurs at the knee joint overloads the ACL and it snaps. Patients may sense an uncomfortable feeling in the knee when it occurs and feel or hear a pop.
After you tear your ACL your tibia may slide forward abnormally. But you may also sense the joint sliding out of place when you step off of a curb or twist your knee. This makes ACL injuries very noticeable and symptomatic. Surprisingly, the initial injury might not cause much pain. But over the course of hours as the knee begins to swell and the pressure builds inside the knee the pain often increases.
What should you do if you suspect you have a torn ACL?
If you suspect you have an ACL tear you should seek medical care, whether it be a doctor’s office, urgent care facility or emergency department. Typically, an x-ray of your knee will be obtained. You may be placed into a knee brace or immobilizer and given crutches. It is helpful to place ice or frozen peas on the knee for 20 minutes at a time and allow 40 minutes between sessions of icing. Never put the ice directly on the skin – always protect the skin with a thin towel or cloth. This will prevent burns. To help the swelling, you may elevate the affected knee. You should obtain an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon within the first few days of your injury.
Whether or not you will need surgery will be determined by you and your surgeon. In another post I will discuss treatment options.