Knee problems are incredibly common, and can be a result of multiple factors, including arthritis, mechanical problems in your joint (dislocation, loose cartilage, gait change from pain), and injuries. Whether it’s from sports, physical exercise, or other physical activity, the swelling, stiffness, and instability that often comes with knee problems can result from injuries to your meniscus, bursae (bursitis), tendons (tendonitis), and the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.
The ACL is the most commonly injured part of the knee, and an injury to the ACL is especially common in sports like basketball and football. This ligament plays a major role in your knee’s stability and can have you out of action for a long time, depending on the extent of the damage.
Let’s look at ways you can work on getting back in the game by examining how your ACL works, the common causes of ACL injuries, treatment options, and recovery times.
Your knee is formed from three bones and several ligaments and tendons, specifically the femur, tibia, and patella (thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap, respectively), the collateral ligaments (MCL, LCL), and the cruciate ligaments (PCL, ACL).
Your ACL runs diagonally in the middle of your knee, is responsible for keeping your tibia from sliding out, and gives you rotational stability.
Injuries to your ACL come in three different grades that range from mild damage like stretching your ligament to a complete tear. If your ACL is torn, your knee will give out, you’ll hear a popping sound, and you’ll see immediate swelling.
There are up to 200,000 ACL tears annually in the United States and, though more common in athletes, anyone can suffer this injury. Women are also four times more likely than men to deal with ACL tears for reasons not completely understood.
This injury can be caused by landing awkwardly from a jump, twisting your knee by suddenly changing direction, human collision (like a tackle), and suddenly slowing down or stopping when running. The results leave you with pain, swelling, loss of motion, tenderness, and discomfort when you try to walk.
Treatment will depend on the severity of your tear. Basic options include bandages on your knee for compression, elevating your knee to remove stress, ice to relieve pain and swelling, and rest. Rehabilitation will be necessary to restore range of motion and strength in your knee, which is usually done with a brace to keep it stable.
Surgery is an option for treating a tear if multiple ligaments are involved or your knee buckles routinely during normal activity. Reconstruction generally involves grafting tendons to replace damaged ligaments, while repair just mends the damage to your ligament.
Recovery from this injury can be explained in five phases and can take from six months to a year.
This is within the first two weeks after treatment for your tear, and will mainly consist of icing, elevating, and protecting your knee.
This phase is 3-6 weeks after treatment, when physical therapy is used to start working on restoring range of motion and stability.
At 7-12 weeks, light jogging, cycling, and pool workouts can start, helping to build strength.
Within 3-6 months post-treatment, simulations and drills are done to prepare your knee for intense activity like sports, but you’re not yet fully healed.
Around 6-12 months after treatment, your knee should be ready for action, but it can take longer depending on how your rehabilitation goes.
An ACL tear is a potentially career-ending injury, so take care of your knee and listen to your doctors and trainers when trying to get back to being sports-ready. If you’re looking to repair and/or rehab an ACL injury, make an appointment with the team at Michigan Avenue Primary Care today. Call our office or schedule your visit online.