Anterior cruciate ligament or ACL is one of the major cruciate ligaments located within the knee joints that provides stability to your knees. This connecting ligament between the tibia and the femur prevents over-bending and over-straightening of the knee while limiting the sliding movement between the bones. An ACL tear refers to an injury caused to the ligament. The injury may be caused by a range of factors such as a twisting force being applied to the knee whilst the foot is firmly planted on the ground or upon landing or a direct blow to the knee.
The ACL tears may range from mild to severe. It is one of the most common type of sports injury. Contact sports like football or pivoting sports like skiing are the common scenarios of the ACL tears. However, in certain cases, non-contact ACL sports related injuries can also occur while running, pivoting, landing from a jump, or overextending the knee-joint.
ACL Tear Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of ACL tears may vary based on the severity of the injury or whether there are any associated injuries. For example, the partial ACL tear symptoms may be significantly less than a complete ligament injury. Here are some of the common symptoms of this orthopedic problem.
Pain: One of the most prominent symptoms of an ACL tear is the excruciating knee pain that accompanies it. The initial sharp pain on the outside and back of the knee may soon become a throbbing ache in your knees. Physical movements like straightening, bending your knees and legs, or putting some weight on it may increase the severity of the pain.
The "Pop" Sound: At the time of the injury, you may hear an audible "pop" or crack. This is often accompanied by a sharp pain. The crack or the pop sound could be the result of the tibia and the femur rubbing against each other.
Knee Swelling: Also known as hemarthrosis, the significant swelling of the knee is caused by the disruption of the anterior cruciate ligament causing the knee-joint to be filled with blood. The swollen knees appear tight, puffy, and large.
Instability and Loss of Strength: Since the anterior cruciate ligament is a significant player in giving stability to your knees, an injury to this ligament may cause the knee joints to become unstable. While the minor forms of ACL tears may cause instability while pivoting or jumping, severe forms of ACL tears may cause difficulty in moving around and the "knees giving away". The quadriceps weakness may be aggravated by the swelling of the knee and you may thus, have episodes of the knee giving away.
Limited Motion: ACL tears can result in knee swelling and extreme pain. This results in decreased range of motion and trouble in moving the legs.
ACL Tear Diagnosis and Treatment
For diagnosing the ACL tear, the doctor may have to do a complete physical examination to assess the knee ligaments. This is often accompanied by specific tests like the Lachman test to evaluate any abnormal tibia movements and the pivot shift maneuver. X-rays of the knees along with an MRI scan can help locate the ligament damage or any associated fractures.
Once the ACL tear has been diagnosed, an ACL reconstruction surgery needs to be done. Initially, the doctor may provide first-aid tips to reduce swelling and pain. A common ACL tear treatment is known as RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Once the ACL surgery is done, exercises and training along with physiotherapy sessions help in the surgery rehab.
ACL tears are a serious sports related injury that should be addressed as soon as possible. In addition, players need to use proper techniques when playing sports or exercising to reduce the probability of ACL tears. Using knee support braces has also known to reduce the incidence of knee injuries.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.