If you’re a sports fan, you've probably heard about an athlete experiencing a season-ending ACL tear during competition. However, the causes of this injury aren’t limited to sports.
This relatively common injury sidelines up to 200,000 athletes and non-athletes annually when the knee joint experiences a sudden change in direction that damages the ligament.
A ligament is a tough band of tissue that holds organs in place or connects bones. Your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, connects your thigh bone to your shin bone. It’s located in the front, or anterior, center of your knee.
Your ACL stabilizes your knee when you run, walk, or jump. It works to prevent forward movement and rotation of the shin bone on the thigh bone.
An ACL tear can affect anyone at any age. If you’ve experienced an ACL tear, you need the services of a qualified orthopedic surgeon for an appropriate evaluation and diagnosis.
Board-certified orthopedic surgeon W. Joseph Absi, MD, of Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute in Smyrna, Georgia, is an ACL reconstruction specialist with more than 20 years of experience in diagnosing and treating ACL tears.
Whether your goals involve a return to competitive sports or simply a return to pain-free movement, Dr. Absi can help you recover function and avoid future injury.
Find out more about the causes of an ACL tear and what to expect if it happens to you.
Risk of an ACL tear
People of all ages and lifestyles experience ACL tears. The injury can occur from activities ranging from sports to household mishaps. Working in a physically demanding job can also increase your risk of an ACL tear.
Women are four times more likely to experience an ACL tear than men. This may be due to reasons that include the biomechanics of a woman’s body, a difference in lower leg and pelvis alignment, different physical conditioning, or the effect of estrogen on women's ligaments.
Poor conditioning and participating in sports when you’re out of shape can increase your risk of an ACL tear and other injuries. It’s important to ensure that you start slow and build up your ability to participate in high intensity sports.
Improper or ill-fitting footwear can also make you vulnerable to an ACL tear. The wrong shoes can put extra strain on your joints and ligaments, making you susceptible to falls or trips.
Children and adolescents can experience ACL tears. They often happen in combination with other knee injuries, such as a torn meniscus.
Common causes of ACL tears
Most ACL tears happen without contact, typically the result of an abrupt, twisting movement: You stop suddenly and change direction, often while pivoting or landing incorrectly after a jump. The injury can occur during sports or everyday activities.
An ACL tear can also occur as the result of a sudden impact to your knee, for example, when a player is hit by the hard helmet or foot of another player.
Sports that involve landing on your heels or planting your feet in sharp, weight-bearing motions can make your knees vulnerable to ACL tears. Sports with higher risks of ACL tears include football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, skiing, and volleyball.
Symptoms of an ACL tear
Whatever the cause, ACL tears typically have the following symptoms in common:
- A loud pop or popping feeling at the time of injury
- Onset of intense pain
- Rapid swelling of your knee
- Inability to continue an activity
- Loss of range of motion
- Feeling your knee “give out” or being unable to bear weight
- Tenderness along the joint line
Treatment depends on the extent of your ACL tear.
Treatment for an ACL tear
Many types of knee pain and inflammation can improve with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) therapy and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.
Bracing may be used to reduce stress on the knee. Physical therapy can strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee and improve your range of motion if your lifestyle doesn’t include extreme physical activity.
If you’re an athlete or you lead a physically active lifestyle, you’ll likely need ACL reconstruction surgery to resume these activities. Dr. Absi performs this procedure with minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery that involves removing the torn ACL and replacing it with a tissue graft.
If you think you have an ACL tear, getting an accurate diagnosis is your first step toward recovery. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Absi, call our office or make an appointment online.