Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears represent half of all knee injuries. Contrary to popular belief, a torn ACL is seldom caused by a direct blow to your knee.
Instead, ACL tears most often occur during athletic activities when you suddenly pivot, change direction, or rapidly stop while running. You can also tear the ACL when you jump and land the wrong way.
Once your ACL is damaged, nothing is more important than starting treatment as soon as possible. Patients who come to Prolete Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine receive exceptional care for a torn ACL, with individualized treatment plans designed to relieve pain and rehabilitate the ligament.
How to recognize an ACL tear
Chances are you will feel a pop when the ACL tears, followed by pain and swelling. You may experience immediate swelling, but if not, you can count on it within 24 hours.
Many patients also have knee instability, limited movement, discomfort when walking, and knee buckling.
Treatment choices for ACL tears
After tearing your ACL, you can have nonsurgical or surgical treatment. The nonsurgical option primarily consists of physical therapy. This leaves the door open for surgery down the road if needed.
Your other choice is to have surgery followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation. If you want to return to the stress of competitive sports or you have a full ligament tear, you’re more likely to need surgery.
In both treatment paths, the best decision depends on variables like your age, overall health, the severity of your ACL tear, and if other structures in the knee were damaged.
No matter which treatment path is best for you, one thing is certain: You need to seek early treatment to ensure your recovery is optimal.
The risks of delaying treatment for an ACL tear
Your ACL plays a crucial role in stabilizing your knee. It maintains rotational strength and makes sure the tibia (shin bone) doesn’t slide away from your femur (thigh bone).
Because the ACL bears such extensive stress, delaying treatment after it tears can lead to a range of problems. You may end up with:
A worse injury
If you continue to use your knee after an ACL injury, you only make the problem worse. You fuel ongoing inflammation, the ligament continues to weaken, and a partial tear is likely to turn into a complete rupture.
The ACL ligament takes a long time to heal even when you seek early treatment. If the injury gets worse, your road to recovery becomes longer and more challenging.
You also need to know that the ACL doesn’t heal well because it lacks a good blood supply. You need quick treatment to overcome this obstacle and help your knee to return to full health.
Long-term knee instability
If you wait too long to treat a torn ACL, you’re at risk of developing chronic knee pain and knee instability. Waiting to get treatment may mean that surgery is your only option. Or you may need to cope with ongoing instability by modifying your activities and giving up intensive sports.
An injured meniscus
When you tear your ACL, you have a 50-50 chance of damaging other structures in your knee, including your meniscus — the cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between the shin bone and thigh bone — and the other ligaments in the knee joint.
If you put off treatment, these injuries get progressively worse. More importantly, delaying treatment causes extensive damage to the meniscus even if it was healthy and uninjured during the initial event causing your torn ACL.
When the ACL is weak and can’t do its job, the meniscus is forced to bear more stress and provide more support. As a result, meniscus injuries commonly occur in untreated ACL tears.
Damage to the meniscus causes more complications, including increasing your chances of osteoarthritis.
A higher risk of osteoarthritis
Untreated ACL injuries accelerate the development of osteoarthritis. Without proper support from the ACL, the articular cartilage starts to break down at a more rapid pace than normal.
Following your knee injury, bleeding can occur inside the joint. You may or may not have signs alerting you to the problem. Meanwhile, joint bleeding destroys the cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis.
If you develop knee pain, swelling, or instability, you have direct access to our team. You can schedule an appointment and get a thorough evaluation without needing a doctor’s referral. To learn more, call our office in Mildford, Connecticut, or use the online booking feature today.