Whether you love karate, squash, golf, gymnastics or rugby – the chances are good that you have seen or experienced knee trauma in the form of an ACL tear. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the ligaments within the knee which connect the tibia and the femur and provides stability and strength to the joint. It is this positioning that makes it vulnerable to tearing during awkward sporting movements which may include deceleration, side-stepping or twisting.
Am I Suffering from an ACL Tear?
As with any injury, self-diagnosis is not recommended, but how do you know if you have damaged your ACL? Generally speaking, after an ACL tear your knee will feel wobbly and you will likely experience swelling around this area. After a little while, perhaps a couple of hours, you will feel discomfort, pain and additional swelling, as well as loss of motion. A full examination by a specialist would determine exactly what the damage is using x-rays or an MRI, which would show the extent of the injury.
Treatment of an ACL Tear
Your treatment options will vary depending on the injury and the general health of the patient.
A partial ACL tear may not require surgery, and the patient may enjoy a full recovery with a full range of motion and strength with physiotherapy and sufficient rest. A knee brace may be needed to keep the joint stable while it is healing and prevent further damage from falling or stressing the unstable knee.
A full ACL tear, however, almost always requires surgery and due to the extent of the damage, there is often additional injuries or strains to the surrounding ligaments and tendons. Ideally, an orthopaedic surgeon would use arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive, keyhole surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat joint problems. Most commonly used for ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders, hips and wrists, the operation is performed under local, general or spinal anaesthetic, and involves inserting a thin metal tube into tiny incisions in the skin above the joint to be examined.
The benefits of arthroscopy are:
- Minimally invasive, meaning less post-op pain
- Small incisions reduce scarring
- Low risk
- Little, if any, blood loss
- Reduced trauma to connective tissue
- Faster healing time
Very often a full ACL tear is not repaired with the use of sutures. Because of the stretching and pulling on this ligament, the repair may not last which would cause unnecessary pain and additional surgical procedures. For the best results the ligament would be replaced with a tendon graft from either the patient or a donor which gives the knee the strength and flexibility it needs.
Prevention of ACL Tears
The good news is that ACL tears are preventable, so if you’re a serious sportsman and you are determined not to get benched for 3 to 6 months with an ACL injury, then it’s vital to pay attention to your overall fitness.
The benefits of a warm-up cannot be overstated. Warm muscles, good circulation and flexible joints are all the best place to start before training or playing sport.
Entire businesses have been dedicated to the art of stretching and for good reason. Stretching prepares your body for its full range of motion and eases tight muscles.
Many ACL injuries are caused by landing awkwardly, falling, or twisting the knee when a leg muscle gives out. Strong legs equal strong knees, and the muscles carry the weight and the joints only have one job to do.
Strong back, chest and abdominal muscles support your body well and improve your overall form.
An ACL tear can affect your training or sport for a long time, so we encourage all our dedicated sporting enthusiasts to take every precaution to maintain a strong and supple body. If the worst happens then we are here to help, with our specialist sports medicine doctor, Dr Baba, ready to assist you.