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Every year, about 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries happen in the United States, mostly related to sports accidents and traumatic injuries, like falls. As a major knee ligament, it’s not surprising that these injuries can cause a lot of mobility issues, along with plenty of discomfort.

Even though treatment has a high rate of success, plenty of people wonder what their life will be like after an ACL tear. Dominique Nickson, MD, and the team at Next Step Orthopedics offer this quick overview of what you can expect if you’ve torn your ACL.

Diagnosing an ACL tear

ACL tears happen when your knee is hyperextended, putting excess strain on the ligament that helps control rotational stability when you walk, run, pivot, and jump. Most ACL tears are associated with at least some level of pain when the injury occurs. Other symptoms include:

  • “Popping” noise or sensation at the time of injury
  • Knee weakness or instability
  • Feeling like the knee will “give way”
  • Pain when putting weight on the knee
  • Knee swelling
  • Knee discoloration or bruising
  • Diminished range of motion

ACL tears can range from partial tears to complete tears, where the ligament is completely torn through. Your symptoms can vary a lot depending on the tear severity.

ACL injury treatment

If you’ve torn your ACL, you might think surgery is a given. But not all ACL tears need surgery to heal and stabilize. Based on each patient’s injury and lifestyle, Dr. Nickson offers both conservative and surgical options for treating tears.

Physical therapy, pain medication, and bracing or splinting are common options for treating partial ACL tears. Nonsurgical treatment can also be an appropriate choice for non-athletes who don’t put a lot of strain on their knees.

For major tears and for people who use their knees a lot for sports or their jobs, surgery might be a better option. ACL reconstruction uses a donor graft to replace the ligament. This surgery can often be performed arthroscopically, using small incisions for less tissue damage and speedier healing.

Recovering from an ACL injury: What to expect

Whether you have surgery or not, physical therapy will likely be a part of your recovery process. The therapy uses stretching and strength-building exercises that gradually “ramp up” as you recover. These exercises and stretches help your joint regain strength, stability, and flexibility, so you can get back to the activities you enjoy.

Throughout the healing process, your level of activity will also evolve as the joint heals. At the beginning of recovery, Dr. Nickson may recommend using a brace or a walking cane to provide extra stability and support. As your knee function improves, you’ll slowly resume your normal activities.

Recovery can take anywhere from a few months to as long as a year for severe tears. The key to a fast, complete recovery is to keep all your doctor and therapy visits and follow Dr. Nickson’s instructions closely. Your treatment will be entirely customized and focused on your recovery, so don’t hesitate to ask questions and voice any concerns you might have.

Don’t get sidelined by an ACL injury

As a top orthopedics specialist in McKinney, Texas, Dr. Nickson can help you get the treatment you need for fast recovery following an ACL tear. call us at (972) 547-0047 or book an appointment online today to learn how he can develop a custom treatment plan for you.

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