The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is responsible for keeping the knee stable. As a ligament, the ACL connects the upper leg bone and lower leg bone. A tear in the ACL can range from a mild injury to a severe tear if the ligament completely tears and causes the bones to separate.
ACL injuries commonly occur from deceleration – a reduction in speed. Twisting your knee while slowing down can cause the knee to buckle and result in a torn ACL. Skiers are often vulnerable to ACL injuries due to “phantom leg.” This is when a ski acts as a very long leg and the resulting torque causes a twist and tear in the ACL.
To diagnose an ACL injury, a physician will examine your knee and ask questions about your health. X-rays or MRIs may be required to understand the extent of the damage to your knee. Arthroscopy is also another option for diagnosis and consists of a physician inserting surgical tools through a small incision to look inside your knee.
The best mode of treatment for an ACL injury will depend on many factors. For example, younger patients are more likely to choose reconstructive surgery, while older individuals typically opt for a conservative treatment plan utilizing physical therapy. Reconstructive surgery can be performed using tissues from the patient’s hamstring or a cadaver.
It’s likely that surgery will not occur until at least two weeks after injury so that the knee can settle down and be ready for the procedure. After surgery, physical therapy is then necessary to help the body recover and to regain strength in the knee.