Anyone who has ever torn or ruptured their anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, can tell you how painful it is. An ACL tear is one of the most common sports-related injuries, with over 250,000 tears and ruptures every year.
However, the pain of an ACL injury doesn’t have to last. ACL reconstruction surgery can get you back on your feet after an ACL injury, and with some physical therapy and rehabilitation, most patients are able to regain their prior form in the sports they love.
If you have suffered an ACL tear or rupture, come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he explains ACL basics, the pain of ACL injuries, and how ACL reconstruction works.
The ACL is one of the four main ligaments in the knee, and it provides mobility to the knee joint, which allows you to straighten and bend your knee for activities like walking and running. It serves as the main connector between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). The ACL’s placement across the center of the kneecap makes it essential to the stability of the knee joint as a whole.
Injuries to the ACL typically occur when the foot is planted but the knee is in motion. Examples of this include sudden stops and changes in direction, jumping and landing, and hard twists and pivots.
About 80% of sports-related ACL tears are noncontact injuries. Despite this, some ACL injuries occur because of hard contact injuries that happen when the foot is planted. Sports that lend themselves to ACL injuries include basketball, soccer, football, gymnastics, and volleyball. Women are two to four times more likely than men to injure their ACLs; the reasons for this are not fully known but may relate to the slightly different bone structure and anatomy of men and women.
Symptoms of an ACL tear
Many patients report that they hear a pop or feel a popping sensation when they injure their ACL. Those nearby may also hear the pop. Other symptoms of an ACL tear include:
- Initial sharp pain
- Deep pain and aching in the knee
- Unstable feeling that knee might give out
- Restricted range of motion
Not all of these symptoms will occur immediately after the injury. Some, like bruising and aching, may worsen in the days after an ACL injury.
ACL injuries used to demand painful open surgery. Now, Dr. Steven Nolan typically performs ACL reconstruction by way of knee arthroscopy, which lessens the risks of surgery while also using smaller incisions. During a reconstruction with arthroscopy, Dr. Nolan will make a small incision to insert a camera into your leg. After examining the damage, he will make a couple of other incisions to repair the knee joint and reconstruct the ACL with hamstring tendon grafts or patellar tendon grafts — tissue taken from your own body or a donor.
This type of reconstruction is performed as an outpatient procedure, and typical post-surgery symptoms include swelling, some numbness, and lethargy. You’ll be able to return to activities in six months and should be back to full strength after about a year after your surgery.
To learn more about ACL reconstruction and knee arthroscopy, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.