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Avoiding and treating an ACL injury

Torn ACL Symptoms

An ACL tear is a knee injury many athletes fear, one that sidelines you for several months. In this post, Dr. Nace provides tips on how to recover from an ACL injury — and how to prevent one in the first place.

An injury of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a well-known injury to anyone who plays or watches sports.

So what exactly is an ACL injury? Before I dive into that, let me define the ACL itself. The ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee joint that connects the thigh bone with the top of the shin bone. It prevents the shin bone from sliding forward on the thigh bone, and it is an important ligament because it helps to keep the knee stable.

What is an ACL injury?

An ACL rupture or an ACL tear is a tearing of the ligament. It is usually caused by a rapid change in direction, twist, or direct contact. While it doesn't happen as frequently to runners as it does to those who play sports like basketball or football, it is still a concern — especially for trail runners.

What are the symptoms?

This type of injury is usually evident right away. If your ACL tears, you may feel a pop in your knee, and your knee will give way. You might also feel pain right away, although sometimes it doesn't come for several hours.

Your knee then fills with fluid, and it will become swollen and start to feel painful and eventually, unstable. You may have to stop all high-level activities because of this feeling of your knee giving way. While you might be able to continue daily activities, things like running and pivoting may be difficult.

If you think you have an ACL injury, you need to seek treatment.

How do I treat it?

Your options will be determined by your age, the severity of the injury, and how active a lifestyle you lead. Since most of you reading this are runners, your most likely option will be reconstructive ACL surgery.

The surgical process is pretty straightforward. A surgeon reconstructs your tendon, followed post-surgery by physical therapy.

When can I run again?

After ACL surgery and rehabilitation, you probably will be back to running within four to six months.

How do I prevent an ACL injury?

Here are some tips on how you can minimize the risk for an ACL injury:

  1. Work on your core, balance, and coordination.
  2. Do exercises that keep your hamstrings strong.
  3. Perform drills that increase skill and flexibility.

For more tips on staying healthy, check out Dr. Nace's post, Staying Injury Free Throughout the Year.