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The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the ligaments in the knee joint. ACL helps keep the knee stable, so an ACL tear can really sideline your child or teen from their recreational activities. Our team of orthopedic doctors, specialize in caring for kids with ACL injuries and helping them achieve the best possible recovery.
The anterior cruciate (KROO-she-ate) ligament can tear if an injury stretches it too much. The tear might be partial (through a part of the ACL) or complete (all the way through the ACL).
Most people who tear their ACL feel pain and a "pop" in their knee when the injury happens. Their knee usually gets swollen soon after the injury. After the swelling goes down, someone with an ACL tear usually can walk. But the knee may feel unstable and can "give way" and make the person stumble or fall.
Most ACL tears happen during athletic activity. For example when someone:
The ACL also can tear if the knee is hit forcefully from the side.
ACL tears happen most often during sports involving turning, cutting, and pivoting like skiing, soccer, football, basketball, and tennis. Women tear their ACL more often than men. This is most likely due to different anatomy.
How Is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear Diagnosed?
To diagnose a torn ACL, health care providers ask about the injury and do a physical exam. During the exam, the health care provider presses on the knee and legs and moves them in certain ways. These tests can show if the ACL is torn.
Imaging tests that might be done include:
Right after the injury, an ACL tear is treated with:
Most partial tears can be treated with bracing and physical therapy (PT). A person might need to use crutches during recovery.
Some complete ACL tears will need surgery. Whether someone has surgery depends on many things, including:
ACL reconstruction surgery uses a graft (piece of tissue) to reconstruct (rebuild) the ACL. The graft can be a tendon, with or without bones attaching to it, from the patient's own body (called an autograft) or from someone else who donated the tendon (called an allograft).
ACL repair surgery is usually done arthroscopically. This type of surgery is done using a tiny camera (called an arthroscope) and small instruments that are inserted through small incisions (cuts).
Recovery from ACL surgery can take 6–12 months. A person may use crutches and a leg brace after surgery, and might need a knee brace after that.
Physical therapy is important to help the knee heal. PT helps to:
Recovering from an ACL tear takes time. It's normal for kids with ACL tears to feel angry, frustrated, or down, especially if they can't play a sport they love. Help your child find ways to stay involved in sports, such as keeping score or being a team manager. Or, if your child wants to do something besides sports, help him or her try a new hobby like playing the guitar, painting, or drawing.
To help your child get the best treatment possible:
Having an ACL tear puts someone at higher risk for another one. Training programs may help your child avoid another ACL tear. These focus on neuromuscular training (NMT). NMT teaches movement patterns that lower the risk of injury, especially while jumping, landing, and changing direction. NMT programs include stretching, plyometrics (jump training), and balance training.
Ask your care team if an NMT program is right for your child.
If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-4405.