The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) plays a crucial role in supporting your knee joint, keeping it stable, and helping it function. When the ACL tears, it can have significant consequences for your health, your mobility, and your quality of life.
Physical therapy plays a major role in healing ACL tears after surgery. But can a tear heal with therapy alone, without undergoing surgical repair?
With locations in Bayonne and West Orange, New Jersey, we at Orange Orthopaedic Associates focus on cutting-edge medical treatments for ACL tears.
As an experienced and trusted orthopaedics specialist, James M. Lee Jr., MD, uses both surgical and nonsurgical techniques to treat tears. Here’s how to tell if physical therapy might be a good solution for healing your knee injury.
ACL: Anatomy and injury
The ACL is one of four ligaments that support knee function and stability. The ACL is one of two ligaments that cross in the center of the joint and connect the thigh bone (femur) with the large lower leg bone (tibia).
Most ACL injuries happen from twisting motions — for instance, pivoting the knee when you change directions while running. Some injuries happen when landing awkwardly on your knee, while others can be the result of direct-impact injuries.
Like other ligaments, the ACL can be sprained — stretched beyond its normal capacity — or torn, either completely or partially. In a complete tear, the ligament may tear in the middle or it may be torn from the bone.
If you have an ACL tear, you may have symptoms like:
- Knee pain
- Knee instability or a feeling of the knee giving way
- Loss of knee function or range of motion
Some tears are accompanied by a popping or clicking noise.
Physical therapy for ACL tears
Physical therapy for ACL tears focuses on helping to restore the knee’s function and range of motion. You work closely with both Dr. Lee and your physical therapist to ensure your exercises and therapeutic activities are tailored specifically for your needs and recovery.
In addition to strengthening the joint itself, physical therapy targets the muscles that support your knee, building strength that provides knee stability, while supporting your weight.
Depending on your goals, therapy may also focus on job-related activities that rely on your knees or on helping you return to a specific sport or activity.
So when do we recommend physical therapy for ACL tears? Typically when the patient is older or leads a relatively inactive lifestyle. Often, therapy restores sufficient function to enable these patients to resume their normal activities without pain or other problems.
When surgery might be a better option
While therapy is a good solution for some patients, surgery may be a better option for patients who:
- Are younger with a lifetime of knee use ahead of them
- Want to return to athletic activity
- Have multiple or complex knee injuries
- Experience instability with everyday activities
Physical therapy can assist in restoring knee function, but it doesn’t completely repair the tear, leaving the knee open to continuing instability or damage.
With surgery, Dr. Lee can repair the torn ligament, using a graft taken from your body or from a donor. Dr. Lee has extensive experience in evaluating ACL injuries, so he can recommend the optimal approach based on the extent of your injury, your lifestyle, and other factors.
Find relief for your knee injury
Under the right circumstances, physical therapy can be an appropriate and effective option for treating ACL tears. Dr. Lee discusses your options and his recommendations, so you can feel confident in your treatment and your outcome.
To learn more about ACL treatment options, book an appointment online or over the phone at Orange Orthopaedic Associates today.