Understanding Knee Pain: ACL Tear Symptoms
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common knee injuries in athletes, especially in sports that involve a lot of pivoting and jumping, like football, soccer, basketball and tennis. Learning to recognize the symptoms associated with ACL injuries is important for making sure medical treatment begins as early as possible, before the injury has a chance to progress.
What causes ACL tears?
The anterior cruciate ligament is one of two ligaments that crisscross in the center of the knee. Together with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the ACL helps stabilize the joint while also promoting normal movements like bending and knee rotation.
ACL tears typically occur during sports and other physical activities that place a lot of stress on the joint, specifically sports that involve:
- pivoting or sudden changes in direction
- sudden stopping
- improper landing following a jump
Direct impact to the knee joint can also cause the knee to “buckle”, straining the ACL and causing either complete or partial tears.
Symptoms of ACL Tears
The symptoms of an ACL injury can vary based on the type and extent of the injury. Most people who injure their ACL have symptoms like:
- a “snap” or “pop” sound or sensation that occurs at the time of injury when the ligament tissue is torn
- instability in the joint or a feeling the knee will “give out” when standing on it
- pain when placing weight on the knee or when bending or rotating the joint
- swelling around the joint
- limited range of motion in the joint
In a very few cases – such as when an injury is very minor and the patient leads a relatively inactive life – rest and rehabilitation may be the only treatment that’s needed to reduce pain and swelling and restore some range of motion to the joint. However, even when an injury is relatively minor, surgery is almost always recommended – and necessary – to stabilize the knee and help it function normally again.
For both partial and complete tears of the ACL, surgical repair is especially important for:
- anyone who participates in sports that place a lot of stress on the legs;
- young patients;
- patients with complex knee injuries;
- patients with significant knee instability that interferes with even simple activities like walking.
Most ACL surgery can be performed using a minimally-invasive approach called arthroscopy, which uses very tiny incisions to access the joint and make the repair. During surgery, the surgeon removes the damaged ligament, then replaces it with a tendon graft taken from another area of your lower leg (an “autograft”) or from a donor (an “allograft”). Autografts typically come from another area of the knee or from the back of the thigh (the hamstring area), and they’re preferred over allografts for young, very active patients.
Rehabilitation begins soon after surgery and continues for several weeks, helping the knee regain stability, strength and range of motion. Bracing and crutches are usually used during recovery to help keep the knee stable. Most athletes can expect to return to their sports within about six to nine months following their surgery.
Knee Pain Treatment in the Greater Chicago Area
The knee joint contains bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and other structures, all of which can cause pain and function issues when injured. If you’re having knee pain, it’s essential to determine what’s causing it as soon as possible to prevent an underlying problem from becoming much worse. Dr. Van Thiel and the team at Ortho Illinois have significant experience helping patients from all over Wisconsin and Illinois including Rockford, Elgin, Huntley, Dekalb, Crystal Lake, Barrington, McHenry, and Beloit to get the individualized care and treatment they need to eliminate pain and other symptoms while restoring normal function and mobility. To find out what’s causing your knee pain – and how to relieve it – call Ortho Illinois at 815-398-9491 and schedule a consultation with Dr. Van Thiel today.