While ACL tears are never pleasant, many Americans deal with an ACL injury every year. The ACL, which is short for anterior cruciate ligament, is an important connecting muscle between your thigh and your shinbone. Since the ACL is a very strong ligament, many people who get an ACL tear are athletes who do sports like football, soccer, and basketball. ACL tears are also quite distinctive, as many patients heard a loud "pop" when their ACL tears. ACL tears can range from fairly mild to quite severe, depending on the "grade" of the tear. Your doctor will help you determine this when you make an appointment for your ACL. It is important to seek medical treatment right away if you think you've torn your ACL.
Potential Causes of an ACL Tear
As previously stated, most ACL tears occur in athletes or people enjoying different sporting activities. However, there are other ways that your ACL can tear. One common way non-athletes tear their ACL is colliding with an object or having a blow to your kneecap. Another way you can tear your ACL is attempting to change direction with a firmly planted foot. Some people even tear their ACL from falling or landing in an awkward position. Because of physiology and muscle strength, women are at a greater risk of having a torn ACL than males. Bad footwear or sports equipment could also be to blame for certain ACL injuries. ACL injuries tend to happen more in those with poorly conditioned or underutilized muscles, like at the beginning of conditioning or training seasons.
Repairing an ACL Tear
Despite how unpleasant ACL tears can be, there are different types of treatment depending on the severity of the injury. Remember, repairing an ACL tear can take time, so patience is key. If you are in severe pain or your ACL tear is extensive (multiple injured ligaments), your doctor may suggest surgery. Athletes that want to continue playing a particular sport may also be eligible for ACL surgery. Rehabilitation like physical therapy will be offered after surgery to strengthen your ACL. Even after surgery, you may have to wait to participate in athletics for an entire year before it's safe. It is important to remember that many people experience another tear, even after surgery. Other treatment options include the RICE method and rehabilitation.
Recovery Plans and Timelines
If you choose the RICE method, you will follow the steps below:
- Rest- After an ACL tear, it is important that you keep your body weight off of your leg. Remaining sitting or laying down as much as possible.
- Ice- Icing your knee every couple of hours can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Compression- Getting a compression wrap from your doctor or another type of bandage, preferably elastic can help speed up the healing process.
- Elevation- Resting your knee at an angle can help reduce swelling to heal your ACL tear.
While surgery was described in detail above, there is a rehabilitation only option for those looking for another way to treat their ACL tear. A physical therapist will help you mobilize your joints, in addition to teaching you exercises to build strength and endurance.
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