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What Is An ACL Tear?

An ACL Tear is a Common Knee Injury Amongst Active People

What is An ACL Tear?

People come to Colorado in droves to ski our world-class mountains. And skiing, unfortunately, is one of the prime offenders when it comes to knee injuries.

And one of the more common injuries to the knee is the ACL tear.

Let's take a minute today to talk about ACL tears and answer the following questions:

  • What is the ACL?

  • How Do ACL Tears Happen?

  • What Does an ACL Tear Feel Like At the Time of Injury?

  • Can an ACL Tear Heal Without Surgery?

What is the ACL And What Causes ACL Injury?

ACL Tears

The function of the ACL is to act as a stabilizing element for the knee joint. Starting at the back of the thigh bone (known as the femur), and inserting in front of the shin bone (known as the tibia), the ACL is not that big, but it is meant to withstand quite a bit of force.

However, when the ACL is "overstretched," it can tear. Now let's talk about how these injuries occur.

How Do ACL Tears Happen?

The prototypical skiing ACL tear can happen when the skier suffers a prolonged twisting fall. In our running and jumping sports such as soccer, basketball, and football, it can happen with a sudden loss of speed coupled with twisting.

You may be surprised that female athletes are more likely to tear the ACL due to several factors. Here's a video from Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. Bill Sterett, explaining why.

What Does An ACL Tear Feel Like?

The "feeling" of an ACL tear usually involves:

  • The knee giving way, followed by a "popping" sound.

  • Immediately after these sensations, the torn ACL will exhibit itself with pain on the outside aspect of the knee.

  • There will be almost immediate pain and swelling.

If you have also torn your MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament), you may feel pain on the inside of the knee (medial side).

It is not uncommon to tear both the MCL and the ACL at the same time.

What Happens After An ACL Tear?

As mentioned, the ACL tear doesn't always occur exclusive to additional injury. The meniscus cartilage of the knee can also be injured in conjunction with an ACL tear.

You may be surprised to learn that your knee can actually feel completely normal after a few weeks. And you can do your usual activities with no pain or swelling.

Unfortunately, you aren't out of the woods in this case. If you lack a properly functional anterior cruciate ligament, you face the risk for further episodes of instability that could cause damage to your articular cartilage and your meniscus.

This overall instability is why we recommend surgery for a torn ACL. If your meniscus and articular cartilage are damaged, you face a much higher risk of premature arthritis.

Do ACL Tears Heal on Their Own?

Even Thought Pain May Subside, an ACL Tear Will Not Heal Naturally

No, the ACL Tear will not heal on its own.

Here's a quote from our sports medicine expert Dr. Rick Cunningham explaining why a torn ACL will not regenerate:

"The ACL is bathed in synovial fluid. When it tears, the small blood vessels that once surrounded it also tear, and there is bleeding within the knee. However, the surrounding synovial fluid quickly dilutes this blood, and therefore, the healing potential is greatly diminished." -Dr. Rick Cunningham

Can You Return From an ACL Tear and Play Sports Again?

ACL Tear
You Can Return To Sports After An ACL Tear

Luckily, an ACL tear is an injury that you can fully recover from. Many athletes who have undergone ACL repair find that they can participate in their sports of choice with little to no loss in performance.

If you think you have an ACL Tear, schedule an appointment with a specialist immediately. If you need to contact us, feel free to schedule an appointment!


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