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With football season just around the corner, news reports of ACL injuries can’t be far behind. Anterior cruciate ligament tears are a common injury for many athletes, including football players, whose knees are repeatedly subjected to quick turns that can strain the ligament beyond its normal bounds.

But even though ACL tears may be more common among athletes, they can happen to anyone. Data show up to 200,000 ACL tears occur each year in the United States, including tears that affect athletes and nonathletes.

We often hear of athletes undergoing surgery to repair their ACLs during the football season. But the good news is that not all ACL tears require surgery. The key to recovery is working with a doctor like Dominique Nickson, MD, who has considerable experience treating ACL injuries in patients from McKinney, Texas, using conservative and surgical techniques.

When you work with a doctor skilled in treating ACL injuries, you can feel confident you’ll receive the most appropriate treatment based on your specific needs. Here’s how to tell if your ACL needs surgery or if conservative treatment might be a good choice.

ACL tears: How they happen

The anterior cruciate ligament is one of four major ligaments that connect the bones of your knee joint. Located in the center of the knee, the ACL plays a role in rotational movements and prevents your shin bone from moving too far forward when you bend and flex the joint.

Most ACL tears and strains happen when you twist your knee or overextend it during physical activity, but they can also happen after a fall or another traumatic accident, like a car crash. Some serious tears cause damage to the kneecap or meniscus, too.

Tears that extend through the ligament (essentially tearing it in two) are called complete tears. If the tear extends partway through the ligament, it’s a partial tear. Symptoms vary depending on whether the tear is full or partial and can include:

  • Knee pain
  • “Snapping” sensation at the time of injury
  • Knee instability
  • Swelling around the knee

Your treatment will also depend on whether you have a full or partial ACL tear.

Treating ACL tears

Certainly, one goal of ACL treatment is to relieve your pain. But treatment also focuses on stabilizing the knee, allowing your joint to function while reducing the risk you’ll have another ligament injury in the future.

Before recommending any treatment, Dr. Nickson performs a thorough exam of your knee and orders diagnostic imaging of the joint. Based on those results, he’ll determine if your ACL tear can be treated conservatively or whether surgery is the right choice.

Conservative care vs. surgery

The good news: if you have a mild ACL tear without significant joint instability, there’s a good chance you can be treated conservatively, with options like:

  • Rest
  • Bracing or crutches
  • Medicine to reduce pain and swelling
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle modifications to reduce strain on your knee

If you lead a very active lifestyle or you want to resume activities that take a toll on your knees, you’ll probably need surgery even for more mild partial tears or for tears that involve other structures of your knee.

Surgery is generally recommended for full-thickness, complete ACL tears, where the ligament is completely torn through. Dr. Nickson specializes in minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery techniques that use very tiny incisions to access and repair ACL injuries.

The right treatment for your ACL tear

Some mild, partial ACL tears can heal on their own, while other tears require surgery. The only way to know if surgery is the right choice for your ACL injury is to have Dr. Nickson evaluate your injury using advanced diagnostic techniques.

To learn more about ACL injury treatment, call us at (972) 547-0047 or book an appointment online at Next Step Orthopedics today.

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