Torn ACLs are a common result of active lifestyles. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of ACL tears occur each year. The vast majority of ACL injuries – experienced more frequently by athletes and females – are often the result of sudden movements such as a pivot on the soccer field or a sharp turn on the ski slope.
ACL tears typically present with pain, swelling, discomfort and loss of knee stability. But the severity and symptoms can vary from patient to patient. So how should an ACL tear be treated? Is surgery always required? The answer starts with a proper medical assessment of the knee injury and each patient’s circumstances.
The knee is a complex joint, so a thorough medical evaluation is needed to determine the full extent of the knee injury, confirm if it is, in fact, an ACL tear, and provide a prognosis to inform possible treatment options. X-rays are used to reveal fractures, and MRIs can assess the extent of damage to knee ligaments and cartilage. Even if you don’t think you tore your ACL, it’s important to be diagnosed to mitigate the risk of subsequent secondary injury that could lead to additional instability.
Many, but not all, ACL tears require surgery. The severity of the tear, the loss of mobility and each patient’s activity level are key considerations for treatment options. Given the role that the ACL plays in the knee’s normal rotation and movement, full ACL tears are complex injuries that typically include additional cartilage or ligament damage. Full ACL tears generally require surgery to restore stability and function.
ACL reconstruction surgery is recommended in patients whose knees give way on repeated occasions, and it’s a good option for active people who aren’t able to recapture enough stability after therapy and want to continue to participate in activities that involving cutting, pivoting, and turning motions like skiing, basketball or tennis.
However, for patients with limited damage and stability loss, nonsurgical options can also lead to positive outcomes. Nonsurgical treatments are usually most favorable for patients that have maintained stability, have isolated damage, or patients with open growth plates, or light activity levels. Non-surgical or delayed treatment may be an option for adolescent ACL injuries that present a risk of growth plate injury.
Nonsurgical physical therapy recovery regimens can include activity limitations, progressively challenging rehabilitation exercises that increase stability, and the use of protective devices such as knee braces to support subsequent low impact activities. Your doctor can review the benefits and risk of all potential treatments.
A comprehensive plan of prescribed exercises is designed to reduce tissue inflammation, aid in the healing process and improve knee function. A medical professional will closely monitor changes in knee strength, range of motion, balance and stability. These multi-month rehabilitation regimens chart the successful progress of restored knee function and provide key measurements to assess what, if any, additional treatment is needed to achieve a positive outcome.
The goal of a non-surgical rehabilitation program is to foster improved knee functionality and stability that protects the region and reduces the likelihood of recurrence. All treatment plans consider the potential for recurrence, the long-term health of your knee, and potential for joint damage or disease.
The team of knee specialists at Advanced Orthopedic can help assess your condition and provide you with the information you need to choose the best treatment option for your ACL tear.