If you’ve ever watched a football game or played a sport, you’ve likely heard about ACL injuries. Even if you aren’t sure exactly what they are, you know they’re bad, right? In this article, we’re going to teach you some basic facts about ACLs and what to do if you injure yours.
ACL Stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament…so you can see why we just call it the ACL. It is a ligament that runs through the middle of your knee and prevents your shin bone from accidentally sliding its way in front of your thigh bone, and provides stability to the knee joint.
There are a few different ways to damage or injure your ACL. Overextending your knee is a common method, as is twisting your knee. Typically, these injuries happen when you’re moving in one direction, then stop suddenly to move in a different direction. Additionally, an ACL injury can occur when landing wrong after a jump. It is also possible to injure your ACL if you receive a hard blow to the side of the knee. This is why ACL injuries are so common among football players. Also, females are at higher risk for ACL injury than males likely due to anatomic, hormonal, biomechanical, and neuromuscular differences between the sexes.
Many people talk about hearing a “popping” sound and noticing some swelling when they mess up their ACLs, but the biggest and most immediately noticeable symptom is the pain. Injuring your ACL hurts. Even mild injuries hurt. If you feel pain every time you try to move or put weight on your leg, you probably have a knee injury.
Knee injuries are no joke. If your knee feels off or hurts when you try to move it, do not try to “walk it off.” Sit or lie down to take your weight off of your knee and call your doctor right away and make an appointment to get checked out. If the swelling and pain are severe, head straight to the emergency room. While waiting to see your doctor, put your leg up (don’t splint it), put an ice pack on your injured knee and take a mild anti-inflammatory like Advil or Tylenol to help with the pain and swelling.
During your appointment, your doctor will likely send you to get an MRI to give you a proper diagnosis. Stay off your leg until your doctor clears you for movement.
In the medical world, injured ligaments are considered “sprains” and are graded on a scale. The type of treatment you will require is going to depend on the severity of your injury.
The ligament is mildly damaged. It has been slightly stretched, but is still able to keep the knee joint stable. This type of sprain may heal on its own with time and supportive care.
The ligament has stretched, becoming loose and leading to a partial tear.
A complete tear of the ligament has occurred, and has been split into two pieces. The knee joint is unstable and surgical repair is almost always recommended.
For a few people, bracing, injections and painkillers are enough to treat the injury while it heals. For most people, though, surgery is often considered necessary. Treatment options are also determined based on the expected level of future activity.
It’s important to note that about half of all injuries to the ACL also incur damage to other structures in the knee, such as the articular cartilage, meniscus or other ligaments.
It is totally normal to be scared about the idea of having to undergo surgery of any kind but knee surgeries can feel extra scary. We’ve all heard stories about how challenging knee surgeries can be and how long it takes a person to fully recover afterwards. We’ve also all heard stories about patients requiring multiple surgeries and never fully regaining use of their knees. Likewise, it would be weird if you weren’t worried!
You should always get a second opinion before you consent to surgery. There have been many medical advancements that have helped reduce a patient’s need for invasive procedures. When it comes to ACL injuries, for instance, doctors and researchers have had extensive success using stem cell treatments as an alternative to surgery.
Stem cell therapy is a safe, minimally invasive, and natural procedure. The patient’s own stem cells are used for their treatment so you don’t have to worry about trying to find a donor.
Many patients prefer this alternative because it is (comparatively) quick, natural, and the results are noticeable within a few weeks, instead of several months.
The results of using stem cells to treat ACL injuries have been proven, even for extreme athletes. Stephen Drake, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson have all undergone the procedure and have seen fantastic results.
In the end, the good news is that the vast majority of ACL injuries are treatable, and most patients have an excellent chance of a full recovery. The amount of time it takes to recover varies greatly depending on the severity of the injury, the treatment you choose to undergo and the amount of effort put into rehabilitation. Generally speaking, post-surgical rehab is much longer than the rehab required after stem cell treatment.
Unfortunately, no. All ACL injuries require some form of treatment. The extent of the treatment depends on the extent of the injury.