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Common ACL Injuries and What to Do About Them

Common ACL Injuries and What to Do About Them

Tears in the knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are one of the most common injuries among athletes, including kids and teens who play sports. The ACL is a tough band of flexible tissue that holds together the bones in your knee, so it stays stable when you flex, bend, or stop quickly. This is especially important in cutting or jumping sports.

If you sprain your ACL, you might also injure the surrounding knee structures, including the meniscus or articular cartilage. As soon as you hear your knee pop, feel pain in your knee, or can’t move it, call our team for an evaluation and treatment.

David Lintner, MD, is a sports medicine specialist and founder of Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Baytown and Houston, Texas. He has decades of experience diagnosing and treating ACL injuries.

Anyone can injure their ACL, including professional athletes, kids who play sports, and people who engage in manual labor or other activities that stress their knees. Girls and women are more at risk for ACL tears than are boys and men even when playing the same sports.

The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shinbone in your knee joint. It stabilizes the bones AND protects the cartilages that are between the bones in the knee.  Damage to the cartilage usually means your risk of arthritis increases. So the ACL is important for short term knee stability and to prevent long term arthritis. 

Whenever you injure a ligament, such as the ACL, the type of injury is considered a “sprain”. Sprains can be mild injury( Grade 1 sprain) to severe complete tear (Grade 3 sprain).

How you treat an ACL injury depends on the degree of sprain and what other surrounding structures were damaged. Treatment is more than just about alleviating immediate pain. Appropriate treatment reduces the risk for a future injury, too.

Grade 1 sprains

If you have a grade 1 ACL sprain, you’ve only stretched your ACL slightly. Though your knee may hurt, the ACL still keeps your knee joint stable. You may notice symptoms such as pain, swelling, but these may indicate a more severe injury..

Treatment starts with the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). We may also give you a brace to stabilize your knee as it heals. Once the swelling subsides, you start physical therapy (PT) to strengthen the muscles around the ACL and promote healing.

Grade 2 sprains

If you have a Grade 2 ACL sprain, you’ve stretched the ligament  severely enough that it’s too loose to fully stabilize the knee. Think about a piece of elastic or rubber band that’s been stretched too far and can no longer hold things tighhtly together. A grade 2 ACL sprain is sometimes referred to as a “partial tear.” Treatment depends on how loose the knee is and how demanding your activities are.

As with a grade 1 sprain, we institute the RICE protocol, PT, and bracing. However, you might also benefit from using crutches or another assistive device to take the pressure off your knee.

If you’re an athlete or otherwise active, you might also require surgical repair. Torn ACL’s — even “partially torn” ligaments — can’t heal on their own. Dr. Lintner is an expert in ACL reconstruction so you can regain your knee’s full range of motion, stability and strength.

Grade 3 sprains

A grade 3 sprain refers to a ligament that’s completely torn. When you have a grade 3 sprain, your knee is unstable with cutting or jumping sports ( soccer, basketball, football, etc.). However, once the acute swelling subsides many people can walk straight ahead with little difficulty.  It is the twisting type motions that are troublesome.

Once you’ve torn your ACL, it can’t simply be stitched back together. Dr. Lintner must remove the damaged ligament and replace it with a graft. He usually takes the graft to create a new ACL from one of the tendons in your leg, such as a portion of your patellar or quadricep tendon. For some people, donor tendons are the best choice.

When you come for your evaluation, Dr. Lintner examines your knee, evaluates your range of motion, and conducts diagnostic imaging tests that allow him to see all of the structures in your knee to determine the severity of your sprain. 

Once he grades your ACL sprain, he determines your treatment. It’s essential to follow through on all of the steps — including giving yourself adequate recovery and rehabilitation time — to keep your ACL as stable as possible in the future. Dr. Lintner’s ACL reconstructions allow athletes to return to play within months. The expectation is that you will return to all of your desired activities.

If you or your child has injured your knee and is in pain or has trouble walking, call us today for an ACL evaluation and treatment. Contact our office nearest you in Houston or Baytown, Texas, to schedule an appointment.

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