What is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury?

For sports fans and athletes at any level, the phrase “ACL Injury” can wreak fear in your heart. This type of injury can mean the end of the season if not someone’s entire athletic career, often resulting in the need for knee surgery. Why is this injury such a terrible sentence?

The ACL, or Anterior Cruciate Ligament, is just one component in a complex system that allows your knee to function properly. The ACL is located inside the knee joint, behind the kneecap, and keeps the shin bone from moving out of place. This ligament is the source of the knee’s stability.

The ACL can be injured in a number of ways. An unstable landing on a locked knee, changing direction too rapidly during a run, hyperextending the knee, a bad knee twist or being the recipient of a brutal hit are common causes. Statistically, more female than male athletes suffer an ACL injury, and athletes over 35 also frequently find themselves undergoing knee surgery to repair this issue since the ligaments are more worn than in their younger counterparts.

Participating in snow sports, football, basketball, and other high impact sports significantly increases the likelihood of suffering an ACL injury. The ligament can be torn, overstretched, or ruptured during these activities. Sufferers commonly report a “popping” sound followed by a weak or unstable feeling in the knee and major swelling.

Many athletes suffering an ACL tear must undergo knee surgery. The ACL does not have a blood supply and it cannot heal on its own so an orthopaedic surgeon must intervene in the case of severe damage. Quite often a complicated system of grafts must be used to reconstruct the ACL, which is typically done arthroscopically, or by way of a small incision. After surgery, extensive physical therapy and rehabilitation is required for the patient to increase strength in not only the ligament but also the other major muscles in the leg. Rebuilding the muscles, regaining strength and stability, and relearning to trust in the knee joint can be a lengthy process lasting beyond several months.

If you are an athlete who suspects you have an ACL or other knee injury, do NOT continue to play. Apply ice immediately and consult an orthopaedic surgeon to determine what options are appropriate for your situation.


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