ACL Injuries: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

pt HealthKnee pain, Limb pain, Pain

We’ve all heard a story about someone tearing their ACL, or have seen it happen in professional sports. That’s not surprising when you consider that nearly 250,000 ACL injuries occur in Canada and the United States each year.

But what does it really mean to injure or tear your ACL? Today we’ll discuss ACL anatomy, injury causes, symptoms, and available treatments.

ACL Anatomy: What is the ACL?

Before we dive into causes and treatments for a torn ACL, let’s define the problem. The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a tough fibrous band located in the knee that prevents the excessive forward movement of the shinbone or the thigh bone. The ACL is one of two crossing ligaments located in the centre of the knee, the other being the MCL (medial collateral ligament). Together the ACL and MCL stabilize the knee joint.

ACL Injury Causes

ACL injury is common in athletes that participate in high impact sports such as soccer, tennis, skiing, basketball, and football and can occur through physical and non-physical contact. ACL injuries are often the result of a sudden change in direction, pivoting, sudden stopping, or jumping.

Physical contact
The ACL can be sprained or torn when there is a direct blow to the outside part of the knee when the foot is firmly planted on the ground. This accounts for 30% of ACL injuries.

Non-contact injuries
This is the most common cause of an ACL injury. It can occur following a quick deceleration, a sudden change in direction, or awkwardly landing on the knee. This accounts for 70% of all ACL injuries and is the is the more common way of injuring your ACL.

ACL Injury Signs and Symptoms

Side view illustration of knee anatomy showing a complete tear of the ACL
Not sure if you’ve torn or sprained your ACL? There are common signs and symptoms to look for.

  • Hearing a ‘pop’ during the injury
  • Sudden onset of knee pain
  • Immediate swelling
  • Tenderness over the tip of the shin bone
  • Limited knee range of motion
  • A feeling of instability or looseness in the knee

Reducing the risk of an ACL injury

Incorporating plyometric strengthening and balance exercises into your sports activities can help minimize the risk of an ACL injury. These exercises strengthen the muscles around the knee and develop power and stability in the joint.

Seeking guidance from a physiotherapist is also a great way to reduce the risk of injury. A physiotherapy can determine what your injury risk is and provide you with an exercise plan to reduce that risk all together.

ACL Injury Treatments

When the ACL is sprained or torn, it has a tough time stabilizing the knee during movement.

Some ACL injuries require reconstructive surgery, especially for patients who wish to return to playing sports at a competitive level. Physiotherapy can help – both pre- and post-op – to ensure a successful recovery.

When surgery is not needed, an effective exercise plan designed for you by a qualified physiotherapist can rehabilitate your knee back to normal levels of function.

Depending on your unique needs, your physiotherapist may use any of the following treatments:

  • Strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Balance exercises
  • Manual therapy
  • Patient education

Every person is different, but the goal of ACL physiotherapy is to increase the range of motion of the knee, strengthen the muscles around the knee, and improve balance.

If you think you may have injured your ACL, we recommend seeking an assessment by a qualified physiotherapist. Find a clinic near you and book today.

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