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The ACL is one of the four major ligaments inside a human knee, and it helps with stabilizing the knee during athletic activity, such as planting the knee or turning. According to Wikipedia, more than 100,000 ACL tears occur every year in the US alone.
An MRI scan can confirm whether or not you tore your ACL. Consult a doctor if you think you need an MRI on your knee. Seen above are MRI scans of both a normal and a torn ACL (photos courtesy of emedx.com).
In the context of the human knee, ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
It helps with, and is often injured while landing, planting, pivoting, or cutting during strenuous athletic activity. Sometimes when serious traumatic injury occurs to the knee, an injury known as the terrible triad can occur, where injury occurs to the ACL, MCL, and meniscus. For more information on the terrible triad, click here.
The ACL is attached on top to the femur, and on the bottom to the tibia, and can be torn partially or completely when injury occurs. If you think or know that you tore your ACL and you're unsure of whether or not to get treatment, you can consider non operative treatment. This involves knee doctors helping strengthen the muscles around the knee, primarily focusing on strengthening hamstrings. Physical therapy focused on these muscle groups is a great way of accomplishing this. In my personal experience, I went 5 months from the time I tore my ACL until the time I had surgery, and never felt close to the same, so I knew I would opt for surgery.
ACL knee surgery is complex and usually involves reconstructing a new ACL from a graft. As of 2013, forming a graft from the patellar tendon is considered the gold standard, and is what they used in my ACL reconstruction surgery. If your ACL is not completely torn, sometimes the body's natural healing abilities can be stimulated to promote natural healing.
After ACL knee surgery, the timeline for recovery is usually at least 6 months, and in most cases closer to 9 months before you can return to full speed athletic activity. From personal experience, you have to work towards getting things we take for granted like flexibility and range of motion back in our knee regularly during the early recovery process. After the first 5 or 6 weeks, the ACL recovery process transitions to focusing on rebuilding the leg strength.
for more information on ACL surgery recovery, visit the Post-Op page, where I documented my recovery process from ACL reconstruction surgery.
If you participate or plan on participating in sports where you cut, pivot, twist, or accelerate/decelerate rapidly, you should strongly consider ACL reconstruction surgery. It's a long recovery but if you're a serious athlete and competitor, it's the only way to ever be 100% again.
I can't guarantee that you will never injure your knee, but you can definitely lessen the likelihood of a serious knee injury's occurrence. Stretching, and exercising your legs regularly in order to strengthen the muscles that support your knee will decrease the likelihood of injury, as having strong muscles supporting each other in your legs helps distribute the stress of athletic activity.
The join that the anterior cruciate ligament passes through, along with the overall size of the ACL, is significantly smaller in women, making them more apt to ACL tears than men.
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