How to Prevent, Treat ACL Injuries

If you play sports, there are many different ways you can injure your knee; two of the most common are the ACL injury and the meniscus tear. Your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, connects the front part of your shinbone to the back part of your thighbone and keeps your shinbone from sliding forward.

The ACL is usually injured by either a direct blow to the knee or through a non-contact injury resulting from planting your foot and turning or twisting the knee, landing on a straight leg, or making an abrupt stop. Some signs of an ACL injury are feeling your knee give way (sometimes accompanied by an audible “pop”), moderate pain that makes it impossible to continue the activity and swelling that makes it difficult to walk. The swelling and pain are usually the worst during the first two days following the injury.

ACL injuries usually make you uncomfortable enough to seek out medical attention. Through a physical exam, your orthopaedic surgeon can usually tell which ligaments are injured. Further tests such as an MRI or arthroscopy may be called for to properly diagnose your ACL injury. Treatment of ACL can include surgery and rehabilitation. If you choose not to have surgery, you will want to start rehabilitating immediately with exercises designed to restore your knee motion.

Athletes who participate in high-risk sports, such as football, basketball, soccer and snow skiing should learn to land safely from a jump. With knees bent, you should land on the ball of the foot, then rock back to the middle of the foot. Practicing cutting maneuvers by learning to pivot in a crouched – rather than an upright – position can also help protect the ACL. Further, instead of stopping in one big step, athletes who learn to use three little ones while keeping their knees bent reduce risk of ACL injury. Finally, exercises such as leg presses and squats that strengthen your legs can also help minimize your chance of ACL tear.