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Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

Up to 200,000 ACL tears occur in the United States every year.

If that number is higher than you realized, you’re probably not alone in your thinking. The number of ACL tears in the US is increasing, which raises the question: Do you have to undergo surgery to repair an ACL tear, or can it heal on its own?

Your answer: it depends.

Our expert team at Steven E. Nolan, MD, treats ACL injuries frequently. Here’s Dr. Nolan’s perspective on the best treatments and healing potential so you can get your ACL back to full function as soon as possible.

What is an ACL tear?

Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major ligaments connecting your knee joint bones. Located in the middle of your knee, it helps your knee rotate and keeps your shin bone from moving too far forward.

Most tears and strains of your ACL occur during sports or activities that involve sudden stops or changes in direction. You may hear a loud popping sound and immediately feel severe pain and instability in your knee.

ACL injuries can be classified as:

How is an ACL tear treated?

Treatment and healing for your injury will depend on your tear type. Grade 3 tears, where you have a full-thickness, complete ACL tear, will not heal on their own — there is no blood supply to the ligament. (New research suggests that ACL tears may eventually heal on their own, but the results are not yet fully accepted.)

This injury will require ACL reconstruction surgery to heal if you are an athlete or want to resume even ordinary activities. If you’re willing to live a sedentary lifestyle with very little movement, you can avoid surgery, but this option will apply to very few people.

For Grade 1 or 2 injuries, it is possible for the tear to heal on its own. The ligament can repair itself over time with bracing, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications. This option works best if your injury has caused very little instability and you lead a relatively inactive lifestyle. 

If this more conservative treatment option does not give you the mobility you need to resume your lifestyle, reconstructive surgery is still an option.

If you suspect you have a torn ACL and need a treatment plan, our Steven E. Nolan M.D. team is here for you. Call our Sugar Land office at 281-720-6909 or book an appointment with our convenient online scheduler today.

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