ACL Tear

Are you having problems with an ACL tear or knee injury? An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is one of the most common knee injuries. MaineHealth specialists provide high quality care and individualized treatment to patients of all ages with ACL tears.

What is an ACL tear?

An ACL tear involves the over-stretching or tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. It is one of the most common knee injuries. It often happens in sports that involve sudden stops, jumps or changes in direction. Those sports include basketball, skiing, gymnastics, soccer, football, and volleyball.

Signs and symptoms of an ACL injury

  • Popping sound in the knee

  • Buckling feeling in the leg

  • Severe pain and inability to continue activity

  • Swelling

  • Loss of range of motion

  • Feeling unstable when standing or putting weight-bearing pressure on the knee

Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience any symptoms of an ACL tear.

Diagnosing an ACL tear requires a physical exam

A doctor may compare your injured knee to the uninjured knee. Your doctor may move the knee in different positions to assess range of motion and function.

  • X-rays can be used to rule out a bone fracture.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show the ACL injury and other damaged tissues.

  • Ultrasounds are used to see internal structures, such as injuries in the ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the knee.

Depending on the diagnosis, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist, including an orthopedic doctor, orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine doctor or physical therapist.

Immediate first aid

After an ACL tear, immediate first aid care can decrease pain and swelling. The RICE method stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation and should be followed promptly. Treatment for ACL tears may include rest and rehabilitation exercises to rebuild strength and stability in the knee. A patient may need to wear a knee brace and/or use crutches to avoid bearing weight on the knee.

ACL reconstruction surgery and rehabilitation

ACL reconstruction surgery involves an orthopedic surgeon removing damaged ligament and replacing it with a piece of tendon to connect muscle to bone. Successful ACL surgery with an intense physical rehabilitation program can generally restore strength and stability in the knee. Surgery may be necessary if:

  • The injured person is an athlete and wants to continue playing sports.

  • More than one ligament or cartilage in the knee has been injured.

  • The injured person is young and active.

  • The injury is causing the knee to buckle during daily activity.

Reduce the risk of injury

There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of suffering from a knee injury, as well as other sports injuries.

  • Learn proper techniques specific to what sport or activity is being performed.

  • Warm up before sports/activities.

  • Incorporate stretching into your routine.

  • Use strength training to make muscles stronger.

  • Learn how to jump and land properly.

  • Rest as needed.

  • Stop playing at any point you start to feel pain

Where to Find Care

Find Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Care at the following MaineHealth locations.

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