Does an ACL Tear Require Surgery?

Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a key ligament that helps stabilize your knee. A ligament is a tough fibrous band that connects one bone to the other. The ACL connects your thigh bone to your shin bone.

ACL tears are common injuries among athletes. About 100,000 to 200,000 ACL tears occur every year in the United States. Often, you need surgery to repair an ACL tear, but surgery is not always necessary. 

Dr. James M. Lee Jr. of Orange Orthopaedic Associates discusses common causes and symptoms of an ACL tear, as well as when you need surgery to treat it and when you don’t.

Common causes and symptoms of an ACL tears

How do you know you’ve torn your ACL? Most people report hearing a pop when it rips. In the absence of a pop, your knee hurts, swells, and feels unstable. 

Most tears happen when an athlete changes directions suddenly, slows down, or lands awkwardly from a jump. In some cases, an ACL injury is the result of an impact to the knee or an accident. 

Playing sports like soccer, basketball, gymnastics, and downhill skiing raises your risk of an ACL injury.

Does your ACL tear require surgery?

Surgery may not be necessary for nonactive people or people who prefer yoga and swimming to tennis and soccer. Physical therapy and rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles around the knee may be enough to stabilize the knee. 

If you have arthritis, you may not be a good candidate for ACL reconstruction.

But in about half the cases of ACL tears, there’s additional damage to the knee, usually a meniscus tear. With this type of injury, we generally recommend surgery. 

If you’re an athlete who plans to continue playing sports that involve cutting, jumping, and pivoting, you’re a strong candidate for ACL reconstructive surgery.

Why would someone opt not to have surgery? There is a significant amount of recovery and rehabilitation required after the surgery to return your knees to their previous functioning abilities. 

Physical therapy generally starts two days after surgery and lasts three to four months. Returning safely to your sport can take six months to a year. 

Follow our instructions regarding rehabilitation and when you can return to playing and training so you don’t reinjure your knee or injure the other knee. 

Do you think you tore your ACL? Contact us to make an appointment for a diagnosis and treatment plan. You can also book an appointment online through this website. We have three convenient locations: in Tenafly, West Orange, and Bayonne, New Jersey.

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