ACL Injuries: Prevention And Treatment
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major ligaments in the knee. ACL injuries normally occur through non-contact activities, such as sudden stops, changes in direction or jumping, and are common among highly-active people, especially athletes.
An ACL tear is often distinguished by a popping sound in the knee following a sudden movement. In some cases, the knee will immediately become unstable and give out. Other times, it may begin swelling in the hours following the injury, and later become unstable.
“Athletes often fear an ACL injury and view it as a potential career-ending injury,” said Dr. Charles Giangarra, sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at UCF Health. “But the real risk is in not getting proper treatment for the injury. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, athletes can usually return to their previous level of play.”
Who’s at risk?
Athletes and weekend warriors are all at risk for ACL injuries. Activities which include sudden, quick changes in direction, pivoting, or landing from a jump place a patient at risk.
Female basketball and soccer players are at a greater risk than their male counterparts for ACL injuries. Multiple theories have been proposed to explain the elevated risk for female athletes, including shape of the leg, anatomy of the center of the knee, having a smaller ACL, improper mechanics and muscle imbalance.
One way to prevent ACL injuries is to regularly exercise the leg muscles in order to achieve balanced strength throughout the leg. It is also helpful to train and strengthen other surrounding muscles, including the hips and abdomen.
For athletes, training and practicing proper jumps and landings can help prevent the improper movement that can lead to a tear. A number of training programs have been shown to reduce the risk of injury, although unfortunately, that risk cannot be completely eliminated.
In the case of a partial tear, the patient may be able to restore the knee through physical therapy and rehabilitation. However, most patients who choose nonsurgical treatment have a higher risk of experiencing a second knee injury.
Complete tears will need to be reconstructed through surgical treatment. During surgery, the torn ACL is replaced by a substitute graft of tendon. Athletes and individuals who are highly active are advised to receive the surgery in order to fully repair the knee and regain the strength and function needed to continue an active lifestyle. The surgery also reduces the risk of future damage to the knee due to the instability created by the lack of a properly functioning ACL.
Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at UCFHealth.com, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.
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