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Everything You Need to Know about ACL Reconstruction

So you injured your knee. Maybe you fell while skiing, or you landed wrong jumping off a ladder. Regardless of how you injured your knee, you may have been told you need ACL reconstruction. Don’t worry. At the office of Steven E. Nolan, MD, we’re here to help you get back on your feet again.

What does the ACL do?

Your ACL — or anterior cruciate ligament — is a ligament that passes through the center of your knee. It attaches to your shin bone and thigh bone and works to stabilize your knee.

ACL injuries are the most common ligament injuries in the United States, with an estimated 200,000 per year. Of these, about half need reconstructive surgery.

At Dr. Nolan’s office, we often see ACL tears and ruptures —  tears that go all the way through the ligament — in athletes, including:

ACL injuries are common in these sports, because athletes can stop quickly, change direction quickly, or engage in frequent jumps. Your ACL may also get damaged when the side of your knee gets hit with force, such as in a football tackle.

What happens when you injure your ACL?

Not everyone who hurts their ACL needs reconstructive surgery. Minor tears, while painful, can heal on their own, especially if you use the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

But sometimes, using the RICE protocol is not enough to restore your ACL. In these cases, we’ll look at multiple options to determine the best way to treat your knee. We may recommend surgery if:

If you need surgery, we’ll first give you physical therapy for up to four weeks. This will help strengthen the muscles around your knee and reduce swelling, which can enhance the outcome of your surgery.

What happens during ACL reconstruction?

Most of the ACL reconstruction surgeries Dr. Nolan performs are done on an outpatient basis, which means you won’t have to stay overnight in the hospital. You’ll be under general anesthesia for the entire procedure.

Dr. Nolan usually fixes ACL tears by performing a knee arthroscopy. This procedures involves inserting a tiny camera into your knee through a small incision. From there, an image of your knee’s interior is displayed on a video screen.

With a few more incisions, Dr. Nolan inserts small tools that will allow him to remove the damaged part of your ACL and replace it with a tendon from either your knee cap, your hamstring, or from a donor. Once Dr. Nolan repairs your knee, he removes the camera and tools and closes the incisions.

What is recovery like for ACL reconstruction?

After you spend some time in the recovery room, you can return home. Although you may be sore after your ACL reconstruction, you should be able to move your knee. For the first 1-4 weeks, you’ll need to wear a knee brace. You may also need crutches to walk.

You’ll also need to participate in 4-6 months of physical therapy. In most cases, your knee and ACL will heal within this time period. If you play a sport that involves changing directions quickly, such as football, soccer, basketball, or tennis, you’ll need to wait 9-12 months before returning to the game. Dr. Nolan will give you exact details on your condition and clear you when you are ready to play again.


If you need ACL reconstruction surgery, book an appointment with Steven E. Nolan, MD online or over the phone to get the best care available.

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