What is an ACL tear?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament (connects bone to bone) of the interior of the knee joint that connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The ACL is prone to tears and other injuries usually as a result of a twisting motion of the knee that exerts more pressure on the knee joint than the ACL is capable of withstanding. ACL tears are commonly seen in athletes who play soccer, football, basketball or other sports that involve the overuse of knees. An ACL tear can start small, but it may continue to hurt and completely tear if it remains untreated.
ACL tear symptoms
If you have a complete or partial ACL tear, you will immediately feel pain in your knee. You may also have heard a ‘popping’ sound as a possible ACL tear symptom. This could indicate that a ligament in the knee has torn partially or completely. Any use or weight put on the injured knee will be accompanied by great pain. Stability will also be affected as a major part of the knee that is responsible for stabilization of the leg is now compromised. There are other symptoms of ACL tears as well. You may have an ACL tear if you are experiencing these symptoms:
- Your knee is red, warm, and swollen with pain.
- You may develop a fever due to the body’s attempt to fight infection.
- You are unable to stand, walk or put any pressure on the hurt knee.
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What causes ACL tears?
Since ACL tears are common in athletes, it is important to know what exactly causes your ACL to tear apart. In general, the twisting and pivoting motion of the knee used in many sports is what causes an ACL injury. When this occurs, what generally happens is this: your foot is planted on the ground and a force will be placed upon the knee, either externally or internally, causing the rest of your body to react to the force by pivoting, twisting or extending. Your foot stays planted on the ground while the rest of your body keeps moving. When injury occurs, this force is able to override the stability of the knee joint that the ACL is usually able to withstand. Some examples of the causes of an ACL tears include:
- A hard impact that crushes your knee or leg.
- The overextension of your knee when kicking or bending.
- Sudden stop and go movement when running, jumping or turning your body.
ACL tears may be paired with other knee injuries as well. Other ligaments within the knee joint or bones can be harmed along with the ACL. The word ‘cruciate’ is a derivative of a Latin word meaning ‘cross-shaped’ or ‘overlapping,’ and is why the Anterior Cruciate Ligament is named as such. There are two cruciate ligaments in the knee and are both susceptible to tears or other injuries on their own or in combination.
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How do I prevent an ACL tear?
ACL tears may not always be preventable in every given situation, but there are things that you can do to decrease the risk of an ACL tear. Follow this prevention advice for ACL tears, especially if you are an athlete of any age. ACL tears can be a season-ending injury for athletes. You can prevent ACL tears by:
- Wearing the right sports uniform and safety pads when participating in contact sports.
- Properly warm-up before any physical activity. Do not engage is rigorous physical activity with ligaments, tendons, and muscles that are not ready for the impacts that await them. Warming up properly has many benefits to physiological and psychological systems of the body such as increasing heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles and ligaments, and allowing yourself to mentally prepare. These benefits of warming-up and more will help ligaments such as the ACL withstand greater forces.
- Keep your body as flexible as possible by stretching frequently throughout the day.
- Building and strengthening the muscles around your knees for more support. For the ACL in particular, the hamstrings are very important to keep strong.
- Learning how to safely land on your knees after a jump or fall to the ground.