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Who's Most at Risk for ACL Tears?

Who's Most at Risk for ACL Tears?

Tom Brady, seven-time super bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP. Klay Thompson, three-time NBA champion and five time all-star. Zlatan Ibrahimović, one of the most decorated soccer players ever with over 31 awards. What do these three athletes all have in common? ACL tears. Even the greats sometimes have to fight through injury to find success on the field, court, or pitch. 

But ACL tears don’t just happen to superstar athletes. In fact, about 100,000-200,000 Americans tear their ACL every year. Odds are you know someone who’s torn their ACL, especially if you hang out with people who play certain sports. These three athletes may give you a clue to who’s most at risk for ACL tears. 

Are you concerned about tearing your ACL or believe you may already have? If so, 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 highlights ACL basics, how ACL tears happen, and who’s at risk. 


The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of four ligaments located in the knee joint. Together these ligaments help facilitate leg movement as they connect the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia). The ACL is in the middle of the joint and prevents the shin bone from sliding out in front of the thigh bone. 

ACL tears

ACL tears often go along with other injuries in the knee joint, such as tears to the MCL, which runs along the inside of the knee, and damage to the meniscus, which is shock-absorbing cartilage in the knee joint. While most ACL tears occur through the middle of the ligament, it’s also possible for the ACL to fully detach from the thigh bone. 

A telltale sign that you’ve just torn your ACL is the characteristic popping sound and sensation in the knee. The pop is so noticeable that those nearby may hear it, too. The most common symptoms of an ACL tear include:

Partial ACL tears can also occur and are characterized by more minor feelings of instability and “giving way.”

Who’s at risk

ACL tears typically occur in athletes of sports that feature frequent sudden stops and changes in direction. Athletes who play soccer, football, tennis, basketball, gymnastics or volleyball are more likely to tear their ACL. Basketball and volleyball players are more at risk from an ACL tear incurred by landing awkwardly from a jump. And football players often injure their ACL during a low tackle below their waist. However, about 60%-70% of ACL tears are non-contact injuries. 

Women and ACL tears

Women are more prone to ACL tears; some research suggests they are eight times more likely to suffer this injury. Although an exact cause for this disparity is still under debate, experts believe that neuromuscular control is to blame. Put simply, men and women jump, land, and pivot in slightly different ways, and the way women perform these actions put them at higher risk. 

In the event that you do suffer an ACL tear, Dr. Nolan is here for you. He’s an expert in ACL reconstruction via knee arthroscopy, which uses small incisions to repair the ligament instead of a more invasive open surgery. To learn more about ACL tears and reconstruction, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.

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