School sports season is here, and with it comes an increase in sports-related injuries, including injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the major ligaments that supports normal knee function.
ACL injuries are fairly common sports injuries, but they can be the result of falls, car accidents, and other injuries, too.
As a sports medicine specialist with practices in West Orange and Bayonne, New Jersey, it’s no surprise that James M. Lee Jr., MD, has a lot of experience in managing ACL injuries in athletes of all levels. And he has plenty of experience treating these injuries in non-athletes, as well.
Even better: He helps our patients at Orange Orthopaedic Associates learn how to avoid ACL issues in the first place. Here’s what he wants you to know about these all-too-common knee injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
How ACL injuries happen
ACL injuries typically happen when your knee is twisted and the ACL is either sprained or torn. Often, twisting happens when you pivot or change direction rapidly when running, you stop short, or you land poorly after a jump — all moves that are common in lots of sports.
Less often, tears and sprains can happen from a blow to the knee due to a fall, car accident, or other injury.
The ACL is a major ligament that helps keep the knee joint stable and also supports normal knee movement. It’s the most commonly injured knee ligament.
Because the ACL plays such a key role in knee function, when it’s injured, you can wind up with a variety of symptoms, like:
- Knee pain
- Knee instability or weakness
- The feeling that your knee will give way
- Swelling around the joint
- Decreased range of movement in your knee
Some people hear or feel a popping sensation when they injure their ACL. The severity and type of symptoms you have can vary based on the type and extent of your injury.
Treating ACL injuries
We can treat many ACL injuries conservatively, using the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. RICE helps decrease both pain and inflammation, and it also supports rapid healing.
Stay off the knee as much as possible and avoid bearing your full weight on the knee. Dr. Lee may prescribe crutches, a brace, or other assistive devices to relieve strain on the joint while it heals. He may also recommend physical therapy to restore knee function.
For more severe injuries, like complete ACL tears, most of our patients need to undergo knee surgery to repair or replace the ligament with a graft.
Surgery isn’t right for everyone. Dr. Lee takes lots of factors into consideration before recommending surgical repair, including your overall health, your physical activity level, the functional demands on your knee, your occupation, and other factors.
When Dr. Lee does recommend surgery, he typically uses arthroscopy, special surgical techniques designed for joint repair and restoration. Afterward, you undergo physical therapy to help your knee regain strength, flexibility, and function.
How to prevent ACL injuries
While Dr. Lee is skilled in ACL injury treatment, he’d rather help you prevent an injury. To avoid injuring your ACL in the future, he recommends:
- Warming up before any physical activity
- Strength training for your large leg muscles
- Balance training to improve flexibility and stability
- Using proper footwear geared to the specific sport
- Focusing on proper technique for your sport
- Working with a sports medicine specialist to develop a prevention routine
Lifestyle changes, including losing excess weight, walking regularly, and quitting smoking also help you prevent an ACL injury.
And of course, it’s also critically important to seek medical treatment at the first sign of pain, stiffness, or other knee problems to prevent those problems from getting worse.
Ignoring a seemingly minor knee issue could throw off your balance and your stance, making you much more prone to serious injuries, including complete ACL tears.
If you have knee symptoms or if you want to learn how Dr. Lee can help you avoid injuries, book an appointment online or over the phone with Orange Orthopaedic Associates today.