Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury

By: Aditi M

What is it?

An ACL injury occurs when there is an over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. This tear may be partial or a full. There are an estimated 20,000 ACL injuries that occur in just the US alone per year with 95,000 ACL ruptures that occur as well.
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When does it happen?

ACL tears are more common in people who play high impact sports. This injury can happen when a sudden force hits a slightly bent but stable knee. This occurs when one is changing direction rapidly, slowing down when landing from a high jump, or stopping suddenly while running.

How exactly does it happen?

The anterior cruciate ligament connects the femur to the tibia and makes the knee flexible when jumping, cutting and pivoting. The injury occurs when there is a tear in one of the knee ligaments that joins the upper leg bone with the lower leg bones. This injury can be mild (a small tear) or severe when the ligament actually tears completely or when the ligament and part of the bone separate from the rest of the bone.
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One third of the people with a completely torn ACL are able to resume normal activities without surgery. There is also a strengthening program that takes about 6 to 10 months to complete. However, about 65 percent of all patients with a torn ACL will eventually develop a torn meniscus a protective cartilage that reduces friction between the knee bones.

The surgery is called an endoscopic ACL reconstruction and is done using small instruments through a Band-Aid size incision. After four to six months (with the use of a brace), one should be able to return to unrestricted activity and competitive sports.

How to Avoid

For athletes, working with a physical therapist on the regular and just learning about how to properly exercise the knee with caution while participating in sports can help a lot. Nowadays, recent research allows therapists to easily identify and target weak muscle areas to exercise so that no tears will occur. Current studies show that also specific conditioning like jumping routines, proper pivot routines, and other exercises help athletes prevent ACL injuries. These types of exercises are most helpful when done as a part of a routine.
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