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  • Writer's pictureDr. Terrell Joseph

How Do I Know if I Have a Torn ACL?

Soccer player with injured ACL

ACL tears are one of the most common knee injuries that Dr. Joseph, an expert in ACL reconstruction at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, sees among the active residents of Eagle and Summit County.

The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the four major ligaments within the knee. It helps stabilize the knee and keep it from moving too far forward or backward.

An ACL tear occurs when the ligament partially or completely ruptures, often seen in sports that involve pivoting, sudden stops, and jumping and landing.

Five Signs of a Torn ACL

While only an orthopaedic specialist can provide an accurate diagnosis, here are five of the most common symptoms of a torn ACL:

1. You heard or felt a "pop" in your knee - When the ligament tears, you might hear a pop or feel a snapping sensation.

2. You feel immediate pain - The pain may be severe and sharp at the moment of injury, followed by a throbbing ache.

3. Your knee swells - Another common symptom of a torn ACL is swelling, which can begin immediately or take several hours to develop. You may also notice that your knee feels warm to the touch.

4. It's difficult to put weight on your knee - It may feel like your knee will give out from under you when bearing weight.

5. Reduced range of motion - Due to swelling and pain, you may have limited mobility when trying to flex or extend your knee.

How Do ACL Tears Occur?

Skiing accident with ACL injury

An ACL tear can happen to anyone but is most commonly seen among athletes in sports like soccer, skiing, football, tennis, and basketball. This is because they all involve one or more of the following movements:

  • Pivoting or cutting with one foot planted

  • Stopping suddenly

  • Landing awkwardly from a jump

  • Direct impact with someone else

Females are also 4-5 times more likely to tear their ACL due to several athletic and anatomical differences, including:

  • Joint hypermobility - Women are more likely than men to have loose joints, which means the joints can flex beyond their normal range of motion.

  • ACL size - A naturally smaller ACL makes women more prone to injury.

  • Wider pelvis - A wider pelvis can result in the knees pointing more inward (knock-kneed), which puts added stress on the ACL.

  • Landing form - Women tend to land jumps with their knees straight rather than slightly bent, which places more force on the knee joint. In addition, being more knock-kneed can increase the risk of the knees collapsing inward upon landing.

It's not uncommon for other injuries, such as a meniscus tear, to occur alongside an ACL tear.

Does a Torn ACL Require Surgery?

ACL Surgery

Because an ACL tear can’t heal on its own, Dr. Joseph typically recommends ACL reconstruction surgery in cases where:

  • The ligament is completely torn, or it's partially torn but unstable

  • There are other injuries to the knee (for example, an MCL or meniscus tear)

  • You want to return to a pre-injury level of sports or activities

While everyone recovers at their own pace, most people can return to their favorite sports at a high level within six to nine months after surgery, although it may take up to a year for some to feel fully recovered.

Contact the Most Trusted ACL Surgeon in the High Rockies

If you think you might have an ACL injury, contact Dr. Joseph today. He and his team are known for their compassion, care, and expertise in treating ACL injuries in highly active people.

Call (970) 476-7220 today for an appointment! Same-day and urgent care appointments are always available. You can also submit a request using Dr. Joseph's online appointment request form.

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