What is the ACL?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is a ligament (connects bone to bone) in the knee which prevents the Tibia (shinbone) from sliding too far forward in relationship to the Femur (Thigh bone). It is one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee and also takes the longest to recover from when injured.
How is the ACL injured?
The ACL is injured in one of the following ways: changing direction rapidly, stopping suddenly, landing from a jump incorrectly, or by being struck directly in the knee such as when being tackled in football. All of these cause extreme tension on the ACL causing it to tear.
When an ACL is injured does it always require surgery to fix it?
Not always, it depends on the severity of the sprain (injury). There are three levels of sprains which can occur, Grade 1; Mild stretch of the ligament without tearing of the fibers. Grade II; Moderate stretch with some tearing but not completely torn. Grade III; Complete tear of the ligament.
Grade I can be treated without surgery. Grade II usually does not require surgery, but can dependent upon percentage of fibers torn. Grade III requires surgery in order to repair the ligament.
How is an ACL repaired?
An ACL is repaired by an orthopedic surgeon who harvests a replacement ligament from either your own tissue (Autograft) or from the tissue of a cadaver (Allograft). Generally the tissue is harvested from either a portion of the patellar tendon (tendon below kneecap) or from the hamstring tendon (back of leg).
Is physical therapy beneficial in recovering from an ACL injury?
Physical therapy is not only beneficial it is essential to making a full recovery from an injured ACL, especially when surgery is performed.
How long can one expect it to take to recover from an ACL injury?
It depends on the severity of the sprain. But with regard to a Grade III sprain recovery takes ~6-9 months in order to make an 80-90% recovery and a full 12 months to return to 100%. Participating in physical therapy consistently during this time greatly affects the speed and quality of recovery.
Can I return to all my previous activities after recovering from an ACL injury?
Absolutely, once the injured ACL has completely healed and a full physical therapy protocol has been completed there is absolutely no reason why a person should not be able to return to all of their previous physical activities. In some instances individuals may need to wear a brace to provide extra stabilization, but this is not always the case. This should be discussed with your physical therapist and/or orthopedic surgeon.
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