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How Your Knee Is Different After an ACL Tear

You put a lot of pressure on your knees. The knee joint connects two large bones and transfers your entire body weight to your feet. It’s also less stable when it bends. For these reasons, knee injuries are common. 

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are one of the most common knee injuries. Athletes who play sports that require quick, cutting motions are at higher risk of an ACL injury. But anyone can experience an ACL tear. Many of our patients with an ACL injury require surgery, but not all.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James M. Lee Jr at Orange Orthopaedic Associates has extensive experience diagnosing and treating ACL tears and other knee injuries. Here, we share what happens to your knee after you tear your ACL and your treatment options.

What is an ACL tear?

Ligaments are tough fibrous bands that connect bone to bone. Your ACL is one of four bands that connects your thigh bone (femur) to your shinbone (tibia). Knee ligaments help keep your knee stable.

ACL tears usually happen when you overextend your knee or twist it awkwardly. They can also occur with traumatic impact. In some cases, you only pull or overstretch the ligament or partially tear it. A complete tear is a more severe injury. 

ACL tear symptoms

It’s not unusual to hear a pop when the tear occurs. Other common symptoms of ACL tears include:

If you think you injured your ACL, rest immediately and seek medical attention. 

What happens to your knee after an ACL tear

At first, your knee is swollen and painful. Initial treatment includes rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, and elevating your leg to help get the swelling down and reduce the pain. Physical therapy also helps you regain strength and mobility. 

Do you need an ACL? In other words, after you tear one, is it necessary to get it surgically repaired? The answer depends on your injury and your level of activity. 

For those who are moderately active or inactive, the nonsurgical treatments mentioned above may be enough to get you back on your feet again, eventually. ACL injury rehabilitation can take several months.

You may feel unstable without repairing it since the ACL’s responsibility is to stabilize your knee. But if you choose not to have surgery, you can wear a brace for support during certain activities.

For active, high-intensity athletes or young athletes of all abilities, we may recommend surgery as your best option to return to your full athletic abilities. 

Whether you have surgery or not, you have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in your knee, although your risk is lower with surgery. Studies also show that you’re most likely to develop cartilage damage that will worsen over time.

Working with an experienced orthopedic surgeon and physical therapists can help you recover from an injury and help you get back to your normal, active lifestyle.

For more information on diagnosis and treatment options for ACL injuries, call us at our West Orange or Bayonne, New Jersey, office for an appointment with Dr. Lee. You can also request one online through this website.

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