Treating Anterior Cruciat Ligament (ACL) Injuries and Surgery
The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that stabilizes the knee. Injuries to the ACL are very common, especially among athletes. Injury to this ligament often occurs when the knee is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This can stretch or tear the ligament, much like the fibers of a rope coming apart. Treatment for your injury may or may not involve surgery. Treatment depends on the severity of the injury and how active you hope to be in the future. Your healthcare provider can discuss your treatment options with you.
Reduce Pain and Swelling
Whether or not you have surgery, you can help reduce pain and swelling with rest, icing, and elevation. Rest with your knee elevated above heart level. Put ice on your knee 3-5 times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time. (Keep a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.) Take any medications that are prescribed. And follow any other instructions you’re given.
Crutches can help you get around during your recovery. They reduce stress on your knee, helping it to heal. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice about how much weight to put on your injured leg. Use crutches for as long as advised.
If You Need Surgery
For severe ACL injuries, you may need a procedure called ACL reconstruction. This is surgery that uses a graft (new tissue) to replace a torn ligament. If surgery is needed, your healthcare provider can give you more information about it.
Preparing for Surgery
- Stop taking aspirin and other medications as advised by your doctor 7 days before surgery.
- Arrange to get crutches to use during recovery.
- Don’t eat or drink 10 hours before surgery.
- Arrange for an adult to drive you home after surgery.
The most common type of surgery for an ACL injury is reconstruction. This involves replacing the torn ligament with new tissue (a graft). This graft may be a ligament or tendon from your own knee (an autograft) or from a donor (an allograft). To rebuild your ACL, your doctor may combine open surgery with arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, a tiny camera lets your doctor see inside the joint. Tools inserted through small incisions are used to repair the joint.
- You’ll spend a few hours in a recovery area. You’ll have ice on your knee to prevent swelling, and your leg may be in a brace.
- Depending on the procedure, physical therapy may begin shortly after surgery. This may include light exercises. In some cases, you may use a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine for a time. This machine flexes and extends the knee, keeping it from getting stiff.
- You can usually go home the same day as surgery. Have an adult family member or friend give you a ride.
Whether or not you have surgery, rehabilitation exercises are important. Exercise is needed to strengthen the muscles that support your knee. It will also help you regain flexibility, reduce pain, and prevent other knee problems in the future. Your healthcare provider can show you the best exercises for your knee. He or she will also tell you how long and how often to exercise.
Call Your Doctor if You have Any of the Following:
- Severe or increasing pain in your knee or leg
- Heat or tenderness in your calf
- Swelling in your entire leg
- A fever that lasts more than 24 hours
© 2000-2009 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.