Knee injuries are common among athletes. The knee joint takes a lot of abuse as athletes quickly change direction, jump, or repeatedly land on their knees. Soccer players, football players, and hockey players are all particularly vulnerable to an ACL injury due to the nature of the activities their specified sports entail.
An understanding of ACL injuries can help you be better prepared to identify and treat an ACL problem in the future.
Function of the ACL
To understand why an ACL injury is such a big deal, you need to understand the function of the ACL within your knee joint. The ACL is a ligament that helps to hold the bones within your knee together. More specifically, the ACL prevents your shinbone from moving in front of your thighbone.
Without a stable and functional ACL, you could be at risk of developing further injuries that may sideline you permanently.
ACL Tears and Sprains
ACL injuries can be categorized as either tears or sprains. An ACL sprain occurs when there is some mild stretching of the ligament. The ligament fibers remain intact and the knee joint remains stable when a sprain occurs.
ACL tears can be much more serious. Minor tears involve separation of the ligament fibers accompanied by some instability of the knee joint. Serious tears occur when the ACL has been completely severed. A serious tear can leave you without any support for the knee joint.
Symptoms of an ACL Injury
Athletes usually experience an ACL injury while actively engaged in sporting activities. The initial injury typically isn't painful. A loud popping noise is often heard when the ligament fibers separate, but this is the only immediate indication of an injury.
Swelling and pain will appear within a few hours of the ACL injury. A loss in the range of motion through the knee or the sensation that the knee will buckle when supporting any body weight are common indications of an ACL tear.
Treating an ACL Injury
Athletes have a few options when it comes to treating an ACL injury. Sprains and minor tears can often be treated through rest and physical therapy. Resting will allow the ligament fibers time to heal, and the physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles that help support the knee joint.
A complete ACL tear can only be treated by an orthopedic surgeon. Physical therapy will begin in the weeks following surgery to help restore range of motion.