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Ramsay Health UK | 3/03/2021

How a Torn ACL Can Affect Your Game

A common injury for sports players is a damaged or torn ACL – the anterior cruciate ligament. This fibrous band of tissue is found between your thigh and shin bone, joining them together at the knee joint. It’s what helps to stabilise your knee when it moves front to back or performs pivoting or twisting motions, so you can see how it would be incredibly important for many sporting activities.

Tearing your ACL can have long-term affects, particularly when it comes to playing sports. Here is some of the key information on the impact of a torn ACL and the effects it can have.

How can you tear your ACL?

ACL injuries are one of the most common knee injuries in sport. Typical sporting activities which see ACL tears include skiing, tennis, basketball, football and rugby due to the types of movement involved. Common ACL injury causes can be:

  • A poor landing after a jump, regardless of height
  • A sudden change in direction or stop, putting weight and momentum through the knee
  • A collision, either putting direct or indirect pressure through the knee

When you tear your ACL, you may feel a popping sensation in your knee and even potentially hear an audible “pop” sound. Following this, your knee can swell and become painful. In this situation, you should always seek immediate medical attention via A&E.

Effects of a torn ACL

A torn ACL means your knee will likely become unstable, meaning you’ll struggle to put weight on it, and it’ll be less mobile. This will probably have an effect on your everyday activities so you may be wondering what an ACL tear may stop you from doing.

Can you still walk with a torn ACL?

Potentially, yes – if there is no other injury to your knee, and both the pain and swelling have subsided, then you may be able to walk with a non-functional ACL. Your movement may be restricted but it can be possible to walk in straight lines, go up and down stairs, or even manage a slight jog. However, this will all need to be signed off with your doctor first to ensure there are no other complications.

Can you play sports with a torn ACL?

While you may be able to physically perform some low-impact, non-pivot sports (cycling, swimming, etc.) with a torn ACL, it isn’t recommended without explicitly discussing with a medical professional. However, for most sports that involve running, jumping or contact, you will likely need some form of surgical ACL reconstruction before you can get back to your sport of choice. Participating in a sport with a torn ACL risks further injury to your knee, and the instability will prevent you from reliably performing many actions.

The difference between a torn ACL and a ruptured ACL

While they may sound similar, a ruptured ACL is the most severe form of an ACL tear and the one associated with the “pop” sound you may hear when experiencing it. There are three grades to torn ACLs:

  • Grade I, minor tearing sometimes referred to as a “stretch”, 4-6 weeks recovery period with proper physiotherapy
  • Grade II, moderate tearing involving separation of fibres, multiple months recovery and may require surgery
  • Grade III, a complete tear referred to as a “rupture” which almost always requires surgery for recovery in order to regain proper function

Treatments for a torn ACL

Immediately after receiving an ACL injury, or any suspected knee injury, you’ll want to follow the R.I.C.E. model of first aid to help reduce pain and swelling (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Following a trip to A&E to understand the extent of the damage to your ACL, there are different options for torn ACL treatment:

  • Physiotherapy, using exercises to rehabilitate the knee by strengthening the surrounding muscles and regain the knee’s range of motion with support from a knee brace and crutches. This may prove successful for those whose lives won’t be impacted by an non-functional ACL.
  • Surgery, which may be recommended by your doctor if you’re an athlete who wants to continue the sport, if multiple ligaments or the meniscus is affected, or if the injury is causing you knee to regularly buckle during day-to-day activities. This will take the form of ACL reconstruction surgery.

Your doctor will discuss the right form of treatment for your level of ACL tear, taking into consideration any other damage that has been sustained by your knee. Following surgical ACL reconstruction, you will need to undergo a strict physiotherapy rehabilitation program in order regain both stability and movement in your knee.

If you’re wondering will an ACL tear heal without surgery, grade I and some grade II ACL tears may be fine with just physiotherapy and repair gradually on their own. However, even if physiotherapy is the initial course of treatment recommended, this doesn’t rule out the potential need for surgery later down the line.

Repeat ACL injuries

While ACL surgery has a high success rate when coupled with a comprehensive physiotherapy plan, there’s always the possibility that once you’ve torn your ACL then you’ll be more susceptible to future ACL injuries, even with surgery.

As a reconstructed ACL takes tissue from the leg in order to create a new ligament, rather than repairing the damaged ligament, you can suffer a re-torn ACL in the same way your original ACL was damaged. There are also additional factors, such as how well the graft of the new ACL is positioned to how closely the physio plan is followed in order to gain functionality back.

If you plan on returning to participate in whichever activity it was that caused your ACL tear originally, make sure to consult your doctor and take whatever precautions you can in order to minimise the risk of retearing your ACL.

Ramsay Health Care and Orthopaedics

Addressing an ACL tear correctly and identifying the right treatment as soon as possible can make all the difference, as well as handling any surgical procedure with the utmost care and precision in order to help minimise the risk of a retorn ACL in the future. Ramsay Health Care has a number of experienced orthopaedic knee surgeons who can be consulted in order to get you the treatment you need and have you back on your feet as soon as possible. If you’ve experienced a severe ACL tear that requires surgery, get in contact with us here and we’ll organise an appointment as soon as possible.

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