The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is like a tightly braided rope that connects the shinbone (tibia) to the thighbone (femur). It acts as a stabilizer to help prevent the shinbone from sliding beneath the thighbone. When the knee undergoes a sudden or severe twist from pivoting or excessive pressure, the ACL can tear.
- A loud “pop” or “popping” sensation in the knee
- Severe pain and inability to continue activity
- Swelling begins within a few hours
- Your knee may feel wobbly and unstable
COMMON CAUSES OF ACL TEARS
Each year, at least 1 in 3,000 Americans between the ages of 14 and 55 tear an ACL while exercising or playing sports. Skiers, as well as basketball, soccer and football players, are more likely to rupture their ACL because of the nature of those activities. The risk for an ACL tear is not limited to a particular level of athleticism or age group, but females are as much as ten times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than their male counterparts.
A torn ACL cannot heal on its own because it lacks a natural blood supply. You can treat a very mild tear with ice, rest and physical therapy. However, it is more common that an ACL tear or partial tear will require surgery to fully heel. Patients risk further damage to their knees if they delay reconstructive surgery.
An estimated 100,000 ACL reconstructions are performed annually in the United States. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), ACL reconstruction is for individuals who want to continue to play tennis, ski, or participate in other sports. It’s also recommended for individuals whose knee is unstable during normal daily activities like walking or climbing stairs. A reconstructed ACL not only stabilizes the knee, but also prevents damage to the menisci cartilage that often occurs due to an unstable joint.
Surgeons use part of the patient’s own tendon or a cadaver tendon to reconstruct the ACL. Surgeons often perform this surgery arthroscopically and has a 95 percent success rate. Further, it is important that the patient follows surgery with a physical therapy program in order to strengthen the quadriceps muscles and restore mobility.
The videos below will give you a general overview of some ACL repair procedures, however, actual surgeries may vary depending on an individual’s condition.
Allograft Graft Procedure
Hamstring Graft Procedure
Bone-Patellar Tendon-Bone Graft Procedure
Illustration reproduced with permission from Fischer S, (interim ed): Your Orthopaedic Connection. Rosemont, IL, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Available at http://orthoinfo.aaos.org.org/.