ACL Tears Part 1: What are they, and did you tear yours?

Posted on: September 5th, 2013 by Dr. Geoffrey S. Van Thiel

As the fall sports season ramps up, I see more athletes in the office who are worried that they may have torn an ACL. It’s not that sports cause ACL injuries, but let’s face it, the more you move canada goose Mystique Parka and put stress on your body, the higher your risk of injury.

It’s also interesting to note that Google searches for ACL tears also increase in the fall, specifically September, so now is a great time to talk more about what exactly an ACL injury is and how you would know if you injured yours.

On top of that, 150,000 ACL injuries occur each year and cost upwards of $500 million in healthcare costs.  That”s a lot of injuries and a lot of money.

But you don’t have to be an athlete to injure your ACL, though most injuries do occur in athletes.. In fact, most patients who I see at the clinic didn’t take a tackle to the knee, smash their knee in a car accident, or get clubbed by their toddler canada goose Ontario Parka mænd with a baseball. Most ACL tears occur in non-contact situations (often during a sporting event), but more on that in a later post.

What is the ACL, and what does it do?

Your thigh bone and your lower leg bone are connected at the knee joint by four main ligaments. Think of a ligament as a smooth white piece of leather that allows some movement, but prevents too much movement.

These 4 ligaments include:

(image via)

  1. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) that prevents the lower leg bone from moving backwards.
  2. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) that stops your knee from opening up on the inside
  3. The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) prevents opening on the outside
  4. Finally, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) does two things. One, it helps keep the knee stable by limiting the amount the lower leg bone can move forward. Two, it also gives the knee rotational stability and prevents “shifting”.

The three symptoms to watch for

One interesting fact to note is that ACL injuries are not all the same. Below, you will find three common forms of ACL injury, but it is important to note that everything has an exception. If you tore an ACL and experienced something different from the three types of injuries below, please share it in the comments.

  1. An injury with a sense that the knee “gave out”. Most frequently this occurs during a pivoting maneuver or when the foot hits the ground.
  2. Swelling in the knee. The majority of ACL injuries are accompanied by significant swelling in the knee in the first couple of hours.
  3. There is pain, but the athlete is often able to walk on the knee after an ACL injury. However, there may be a sense of “instability”.

What should you do now?

If you think that you may have damaged your ACL, then definitely seek the help of a medical professional. Maybe, there’s an off chance that this just happened to you, and you want to know what to do immediately.

Well, here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Relax. This is not an emergency.
  2. There is no need to sit in the ER for multiple hours to get a diagnosis. On the next business day make an appointment with your primary care physician, a sports medicine physician, or an orthopedic surgeon.
  3. Ice and elevate the leg. The knee will feel better as the swelling goes down. It is also OK to start bending the knee. Movement of the knee will also help decrease the swelling.
  4. Use crutches if the knee is painful to walk on.
  5. Sign up for Ortho In Motion’s newsletter so that you don’t miss out on the rest of this 10 part series on ACL injuries.

Did you tear an ACL? Tell us about your experience in the comments, and please feel free to ask questions.

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