One of the most common knee injuries is an anterior cruciate ligament sprain or tear. Athletes who participate in high demand sports like soccer, football, and basketball are more likely to injure their anterior cruciate ligaments.
When you injure your anterior cruciate ligament, you might hear a "popping" noise and you may feel your knee give out from under you. Other typical symptoms include: pain with swelling, loss of full range of motion, tenderness along the joint line and discomfort while walking.
If you have injured your anterior cruciate ligament, you will most likely require surgery to regain full function of your knee. Treatment for an ACL tear will vary depending upon the patient's individual needs. For example, the young athlete involved in agility sports will most likely require surgery to safely return to sports. The less active, usually older, individual may be able to return to a quieter lifestyle without surgery. Your surgeon will discuss treatment options with you.
During the physical examination, the surgeon will test all the structures of your injured knee and compare them to your non-injured knee.
Most ligament injuries can be diagnosed with a thorough physical examination of the knee. Imaging tests such as an x-ray, MRI or CT scan are also used to help your doctor diagnose an ACL injury and discover whether other parts of your knee may be injured.
ACL Reconstructive Surgery
In most cases, ACL reconstructions are not done immediately after injury. Most surgeons will wait several weeks, as this allows the swelling to subside and the knee to achieve full, pain-free movement before the operation. Operating too early can result in knee stiffness after surgery. However, if an ACL tear occurs along with a certain type of meniscal tear or other knee injuries, surgery may need to be performed sooner.
Most ACL tears cannot be sutured (stitched) back together. To surgically repair the ACL and restore knee stability, the ligament must be reconstructed. Your doctor will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft acts as a scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on. Surgery to rebuild an anterior cruciate ligament is done arthroscopically and takes around 1 – 2 hours. In most cases, you will be able to go home on the same day as your surgery. You will need someone to drive you home and assist you during the first days of your recovery.
You will most likely have your knee in a brace for 2 – 4 weeks after the surgery. Crutches may be used to keep your weight off of your knee. Physiotherapy is an important part of the recovery process. Because it takes time for new ligament tissue to grow, it may be 6 to 12 months before an athlete can return to sports after surgery.
The procedure, risks and benefits and recovery process will be discussed by your Orthopaedic Surgeon during your consultation. An information pamphlet is also provided.