There are as many as a quarter of a million ACL injuries that occur each year in both Canada and the United States, making this specific type of injury among the most common to affect individuals. An ACL (also known as Anterior Cruciate Ligament, the key ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint) injury is the type of injury that occurs as a result of sudden changes in movement, such as direction, quick decelerations, and hard or awkward landings. They are more commonly seen in individuals who play sports (such as football, soccer, basketball, and volleyball.), though ACL injuries aren’t necessarily specific to just sports alone and can happen to anyone at any time.
When someone suffers an ACL injury, it is often described as feeling like a “popping” sensation in the knee followed by severe pain and other symptoms such as feeling of instability, decreased range of motion, and rapid swelling. Like any injury, it is important you stop doing whatever it was that you were doing that potentially led to the injury in the first place, as you not only put yourself at risk of worsening the injury but could make your recovery period even longer, in addition to increase your risk of developing further or repeated injuries in the same area the future. There are also some complications that can arise as a result of ACL injuries, such as the development of osteoarthritis in the knee, though this depends on a variety of factors such as how severe the injury was, if there were any previous injuries, and your level of activity before and after the injury.
To diagnose an ACL injury, your physician will do a thorough examination of your knee and the surrounding area, looking for things like pain and swelling, and will often compared it to the knee that is unaffected, as well as assess your range of motion. To determine the severity of the injury, it’s also not uncommon for doctors to send patients for medical imaging tests, including x-rays, which can also help rule out bone fractures, MRIs, which create images of both the soft and hard tissue in your body and the extent of the damage, and even ultrasounds, which can show injuries in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the knee.
If you suspect that you have an ACL injury, prompt care is important, as this can significantly help to immediately reduce things like pain and swelling. First and foremost, keep the area iced and do so for at least 2 hours, 20 minutes at a time. This can help reduce inflammation, as can keeping the knee elevated. Rest is also important, as it not only limits the amount of weight bearing onto your knee but allows for a quicker healing process. Doing too much too soon, or not taking the appropriate steps to ensure your healing, could result in those aforementioned complications.
Nonetheless, prevention is key when it comes to these types of injuries. Athletes or individuals who play sports on a fairly regular basis can help reduce their risk of ACL injuries be engaging in exercises that help strengthen the leg muscles, the core (such as your hips, pelvis, and your lower abdomen), as well as learning proper techniques and knee positions for certain jumps and landing movements. Keeping the body strong is crucial when it comes to providing your knees with the proper support. It’s also important to ensure you’re wearing the proper footwear for the activity you’re doing. For example, if you happen to be someone who goes skiing, make sure that you are waring your ski bindings correctly and that they are adjusted properly. It’s also important to be aware that wearing something like a knee brace won’t necessarily prevent or reduce your risk of developing ACL injuries in the future, which is a common misconception that people have about these types of injuries.
In some cases individuals may require further treatment for an ACL injury, such as rehabilitative therapy (with a physical therapist) – and, cases where the injury is more severe, even surgery.