What is an ACL injury?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) help stabilise your knee joint. This type of sprain is common among those playing sports that involve sudden stops, jumping, and landing. When an ACL injury occurs, you may hear a “pop” in the knee followed by severe pain. You may also feel that your knee is unstable, swollen, and you are unable to bear weight properly through it.
Dependant on the severity of your injury, your treatment plan will be to rest and do physiotherapy in order to regain your strength and stability. However, if your injury is severe you may need surgery to replace the torn ligament.
What are the early signs and symptoms of an ACL injury?
When injury occurs, many people hear a popping noise in their knee, but this is not always the case. More common symptoms can be:
- Pain in your knee, and having trouble weight-bearing
- Swelling, most likely to happen during the first 24 hours after an injury
- Reduced range of motion as your knee is likely to be inflamed
What causes an ACL injury?
It is very common for an ACL injury to happen during sport and fitness as this puts added stress on your knee. When you damage the ligament, there is usually a complete or partial tear of the tissue. If you have a mild injury the ligament will be intact but your ligament will be stretched and this can cause increased pain.
Numerous factors can increase your risk of an ACL injury. These include:
- Being female
- Playing sport that requires twisting and turning
- Wearing unsuitable footwear
- Playing sports on artificial turf surfaces
How is an ACL injury diagnosed?
Your doctor or physiotherapist will ask you exactly how and when you injured your knee. They will look at both knees to see if the injured one looks different.
After a full examination they may suggest some imaging tests to get a better understanding of your injury.
If the imaging comes back inconclusive, they may refer you for an arthroscopy. This is when a surgeon makes a small cut and inserts a tiny camera so that they can get a much closer look at your injury and repair it if needed.
Is surgery an option for an ACL injury?
Your surgeon may suggest you do several months of physiotherapy before having surgery. For some, physiotherapy is enough to get your pain and swelling under control and resume normal activities after a few weeks.
Surgery is definitely an option for most healthy adults who want to keep active and strong, regardless of their age.
Together with surgery, physiotherapy is the greatest chance for you a stable knee without pain and the loss of strength and movement.
Surgery to fix a torn ACL is usually done with a graft of a tendon (using your own) either from the kneecap or your hamstring. The surgery is minimally invasive because the surgeon will use an arthroscope (thin camera) and you will only have a couple of small incisions in the knee.
Surgery is solely dependant on the severity of your ACL injury. There are a few reasons why some people opt for surgery. These include:
- You have completely torn your ACL and your knee is unstable
- You are normally very active in sport or have a job that requires knee strength
- Your ACL injury is affecting your quality of life
- Apart from your ACL you have hurt other parts of your knee, such as cartilage, ligaments, or tendons. Or you have any broken bones within the knee itself
ACL repair and recovery
Directly after your surgery you will have physiotherapy to help strengthen the knee and the surrounding muscles. After the first few days of surgery your physiotherapist will perform some gentle range of motion and some simple strengthening exercises and ask you to do some weight-bearing exercise. As you get stronger after the first week, more advanced physiotherapy will start. This will involve more strengthening and balance activities to help recovery.
Surgery for an ACL injury is very effective and most people will regain almost all their strength and range of motion and resume normal daily activities. Rehabilitation can sometimes take up to a year.
How physiotherapy can help your ACL pre- and post-surgical recovery
We will do whatever we can to get you on the fastest route to recovery. Some of the treatment methods we use include:
- Strengthening exercises
- Myofascial trigger point release
- Cross-friction massage
- Stretching and range of movement exercises
- Functional exercises