You’ve probably heard of it on T.V. or you recall reading about it in an article. Whatever the case may be, ACL injury is not good news. A basketball player, for example, may lose his career forever. A football player, quite similarly, may never get a chance to play his sport again. What exactly is this dreaded ACL injury anyway and how do you get it? Most, importantly, how do you not get it? Read on to find out more.
ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament, a part of the knee that connects the upper leg bone with the lower leg bone. The function of the ACL is to keep the knee stable. Injury to this very essential ligament involves over-stretching or tearing, and the latter may either be partial or complete.
Symptoms of severe ACL injury include:
- Feeling or hearing a “pop” in the knee at the time of injury.
- Sudden instability of the affected knee.
- Pain on the knee.
- Knee swelling within the first few hours of the injury.
- Limited movement or limited range of motion.
What Causes It?
An ACL injury often occurs during contact and high impact sports. These include, but are not limited to, basketball, football, soccer, and skiing. Specifically, ACL injuries can happen if you:
- Get hit very hard on the side of your knee, such as during a football tackle
- Overextend your knee joint
- Quickly stop moving and change direction while running, landing from a jump, or turning
The chances of injury are higher if more than one of these movements occurs at the same time. It is also important to note that the ACL becomes weaker with age. So a tear happens more easily in people older than age 40 although it can happen to generally anyone.
Some people with the injury can live and function normally with a torn ACL. However, most people complain of having an unstable knee that may “give out” with physical activity. Unresolved ACL tears can lead to further knee damage though. In addition, you are also less likely to return to the same level of sports without the ACL. As first aid measures, you can:
- Take a leave from work or school
- While lying down, raise your leg above the level of the heart using pillows or a sling
- Apply cold compress on the knee
- Take pain relievers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Use crutches to walk until the swelling and pain resolves
For treatment and management, patients with ACL have numerous options. He or she can choose to undergo physical therapy to help improve joint motion and leg strength. Or, if all else fails, he or she can have surgery done to rebuild the ACL. Most surgical procedures for ACL injuries involve replacing the ACL with tissue called a graft. We will discuss more of this soon so stick around!