Understanding ACL Tear Treatment and Recovery

An ACL tear is a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that can happen during sports or other physical activity.

ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears)

An ACL tear can be a common injury to the knee. This can occur to athletes who play football, soccer, volleyball and those who have physical jobs. There are both surgical and nonsurgical options. The majority of people who have suffered an ACL tear recover within six to nine month.

What causes ACL injury?

ACL injuries are common in “twisting-and-turn” sports, which involve sudden stops or changes of direction, jumping, and landing.

These activities include contact sports like downhill skiing, tennis, gymnastics, and basketball as well as contact sports like football, soccer and basketball. A bad knee injury could be interpreted as “being run into or banged into by someone else”, as in a football tackle. Most ACL injuries are not caused by contact.

ACL injuries that are not caused by contact usually occur when an athlete makes cuts or pivots that force the knee to turn or bend sideways.

ACL injuries are more common in female athletes than they are in male athletes, for reasons that are not clear.

Contact-related ACL injuries are usually caused by direct hits that force an athlete’s knees inwards towards the opposing leg. This is often seen in football when a player’s feet are planted and his opponent runs into his front or outside thigh.

ACL tears are often accompanied by knee injuries, such as injury to one or both menisci (the knee cushions that protect the cartilage) in about 50% of cases.


If you are:

  • Take a hard hit on your side, as in a football tackle

  • Extend your knee joint.

  • Stop moving quickly and change direction when running, jumping, or turning.

  • Common sports that are linked to ACL tears include football, basketball, soccer, and ski.

  • ACL injuries are often associated with other injuries. An example of this is a tear to the ACL that can occur with other injuries, such as tears to the MCL or shock-absorbing cartilage in your knee (meniscus).

  • ACL tears usually occur in the middle or near the thigh bone. These injuries leave a gap between the torn edges, and they do not heal by themselves.


Early signs:

  • A “popping sound” at the time of injury

  • Within 6 hours after injury, knee swelling occurs

  • It is difficult to bear the pain, especially if you try and put weight on the injures leg

  • Even mild injuries may cause the knee to feel unstable or “give way” during use.

What are the different types of ACL tears you can get?

Your healthcare provider will grade your injury on a one-to-three scale. Three being the most severe.

  • Grade One Your ligament may have been stretched but still serves its purpose of stabilizing your knee joint.

  • Grade 2: Your ligament is stretched and loosen. It is partially torn. This grade is very rare.

  • Grade 3: Your ligament has been torn and is now divided into two parts. This is a severe injury.

ACL tears often occur with injuries to the collateral ligaments and joint capsule.

What are the options for treating an ACL injury?

R.I.C.E. Therapy immediately following the injury

  • R: Rest.

  • I: Ice.

  • C: Compression.

  • E: Elevation.

It is entirely up to you what type of treatment you choose. Many people who have ACL tears choose to have surgery to be able to return to their previous activities. You might not need surgery if your activity level is lower. However, a torn ACL will not heal by itself.

Tips for Healing Faster after ACL Surgery

Physical therapy

You can get mobility and strength back with a physical therapy program that is tailored to you. Some programs start before the surgery to prepare for the knee.

As the knee heals, rehabilitation will continue. In order to reduce swelling, it is likely that you will need to ice the knee and elevate it for the first week. First-week goals include being able to fully extend your knee and bend it to 70 degrees.

You will continue to work to strengthen and stabilize your knees and do exercises that are specific to you.

To ensure a speedy and proper recovery, it is important to follow the physical therapy program.


Bracing is not necessary for every patient following ACL surgery. Some patients require bracing within the first few weeks, while others may need bracing during activities for up to a year.


It’s not fun to wait for your body to heal. If you are an athlete and want to get back to your usual activities, it can be even more difficult. A full recovery requires adequate rest.

Tissue grafts take time to grow and it takes longer to regain strength, flexibility and stability

ACL, treatment, recovery, acl , anterior cruciate ligament
ACL injury, ACL, treatment, recovery

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You Can Rehabilitate Your Torn ACL without Surgery

There are possible downsides to no surgery:

Your ACL will not heal without surgery. Although the knee may heal, swelling and pain will cease. A torn anterior cruciate ligament cannot be reattached or healed.

It is possible to still live the life you desire by strengthening your core and leg (leg strength and function are influenced by your hips) and adapting your activities. You will need to keep training if your desired activities require strength to avoid injury.

There are potential long-term side effects of not having ACL Surgery:

  • Knee instability. Your leg may give way. This can be reduced by regular exercise.

  • Activities reduced. The knee cannot support cutting, pivoting, landing without an ACL. The possibility of a torn ACL affecting your ability to participate in certain activities, such as sports, work, and other activities that can cause your knee to swell, give up, or feel unstable, could limit your participation.

  • Other injuries. The ACL holds the knee and shinbones in place. The ACL prevents the bones from moving in unintended directions. This could cause injury to your knee.

  • Uncertainty. It is impossible to predict which of the small number of knees will be able to return to more aggressive (and desired) activities and sports without surgery.

There are two things you need to know:

  • Research shows that many people who first try to recover without surgery, particularly those who wish to maintain active lifestyles, end up deciding to have surgery.

  • It’s impossible to predict which knees will be able to return to more intense sports without ACL reconstruction surgery.

Why you shouldn’t delay treatment for a torn ACL

How to identify an ACL tear

You may feel a popping sensation when your ACL tears. This will be followed by pain and swelling. It is possible to feel immediate swelling. If not, it will be within 24 hours.

Many patients have knee instability, limited movement and discomfort while walking.

There are many treatment options for ACL tears

You have two options after tearing your ACL. The physical therapy is the main nonsurgical option. If necessary, surgery is possible.

Another option is to have surgery, followed by rehabilitation and physical therapy. Surgery is more necessary if you are unable to compete or have a complete ligament tear.

Both treatment options have their pros and cons. It all depends on factors like your age, general health, severity of the ACL tear, and whether other structures were damaged in the knee.

It doesn’t matter what treatment option you choose, but one thing is certain: Early treatment is crucial to your recovery.

There are risks in delaying treatment of an ACL tear

Your knee stabilizes with the ACL. It ensures that your ACL maintains rotational strength, and the tibia (shinbone) doesn’t slip away from your Femur (thighbone).

The ACL is so stressed that it can be difficult to treat. This is what you might end up with

A Worse injury

You will only make it worse if you continue to use your leg after an ACL Injury. This will only increase inflammation and weaken the ligament, making it more likely that a partial tear will become a complete rupture.

Even if you seek treatment early, the ACL ligament can take a while to heal. Your road to recovery will be longer and more difficult if the injury becomes worse.

The ACL isn’t able to heal properly due to a lack of blood supply. This is why you need to get immediate treatment so your knee can heal properly.

Instability in the knees for long-term

You run the risk of experiencing chronic knee pain and instability if you delay in treating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. If you wait too long to seek treatment, it could mean that surgery may be your only option. You may have to modify your lifestyle and give up intense sports to deal with the instability.

An injured meniscus

50% to of your ACL being torn will result in other structural damage in your knee. This includes your meniscus, which is the cartilage that acts as shock absorber between your shin bone, thigh bone, and other ligaments in your knee joint.

These injuries will get worse if you delay treatment. Delaying treatment can cause extensive damage to your meniscus, even if you were healthy and not injured during the original event that caused your torn ACL.

The ACL becomes weaker and the meniscus can’t perform its duties. This forces the meniscus to support the ACL and bear more stress. Meniscus injuries are often caused by untreated ACL tears.

More complications can be caused by damage to the meniscus, such as an increase in your risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Higher risk of developing osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can be accelerated by untreated ACL injuries. The ACL does not provide adequate support and the articular cartilage begins to fall at a faster pace than usual.

After a knee injury, bleeding may occur within the joint. There may be signs that you are aware of the problem. Osteoarthritis is caused by joint bleeding, which causes cartilage to deteriorate.

If you experience knee pain, swelling or instability, you can Contact us. You can make an appointment to receive a comprehensive evaluation.