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What is an ACL Tear and What are its Signs and Symptoms?

What Is An ACL Tear?

ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the most crucial ligaments present in the knee joint. This is primarily because the functions of the ligament are very crucial for leg movements like pivoting, side stepping and climbing down. If there is an ACL tear, the patients can have a feeling as the knee is giving out or not being able to remain in position while making movements.

ACL Tear

What Are The Functions of ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)?

The knee joint is one of the most important joints in your body and it bears the weight of the body during most of the activities. This joint is supported by muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four main ligaments that hold your knee.

ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) is mainly responsible for maintaining the stability of the knee joint. Like any other ligament, it is made up of fibrous material and chiefly functions to restrict the excessive movement of the knee joint and maintain its mobility within normal limits. It also controls the rotation of the shin bone and prevents hyperextension of the knee joint. ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) is the most commonly injured ligament as compared to the other ligaments supporting the knee.[1]

What Is A Ruptured ACL?

One of the ligaments that connect upper and lower leg bone is the ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament). The injury to ACL can tear one of these ligaments and make the movement of the limbs unstable or impossible. A rupture is considered as a partial tear of the ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament).

What Is A Torn ACL In The Knee?

ACL or Anterior cruciate ligament in the knee needs reconstructive surgery, if it is completely torn. It is a tough group of tissues that connect the thigh bone to the bone in the knee joint area called the shin bone. The main function of the ACL is to make the knee joint stable by running crossways through it. Also learn about:[2]

What Is ACL Surgery?

The reconstruction of ACL is done with the help of surgery by replacing the ACL by grafting in order to reinstate its normal function after injury. Before grafting or transplanting, the ruptured ligament is removed from the knee.

How Long Does An ACL Surgery Take?

It does not take much time to operate ligament injury. ACL surgery takes hardly 30 to 60 minutes. The time takes checking in, anesthesia and the resurrection. This is, in reality the outpatient procedure. The total time spent in the hospital can be between 5 to 6 hours.[3]

What Are The Ligaments of Knee Other than Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)?

There are 4 kinds of knee ligaments that help in forming the knee joint. These are:

  1. The ligament that stops knee from bending in by running inside the knee is called MCL or Medical Collateral Ligament.
  2. The ligament that prevents knee bending out by running along the outside is called LCL or Lateral collateral ligament.
  3. The ligament that is present in the middle of the knee is called ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
  4. The ligament that prevents the shin bone from moving backwards is the Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). It works together with the other ligament ACL.

According to research, women are more prone to ACL tear than men.

Facts About ACL Tear

Below mentioned are some of the facts about ACL tear:

  • The knee joint ligaments help the knees to be stabilized. Of the four ligaments, the most important is the ACL or the anterior cruciate ligament. It gets injured very often.
  • It is reported that people aged between 15 and 25 get ACL tear.
  • People suffering from ACL tear are at the risk of reinjuring it within a year after reconstruction. The other reconstructive surgery on the other knee is prone to high risk.
    The instances are not rare when the players fear to return to sports after ACL reconstruction fearing re-injury.
  • The rehabilitation of postoperative period for ACL tear takes about 6-9 months to get back to previous activity.

What Causes An ACL Tear?

ACL tear is mostly the result of a traumatic force on the knee joint while making pivoting or turning movements. ACL tear mostly occurs as a common sports injury, falls, vehicle collisions or other injuries. ACL tears are more common during landing from a jump, twisting movements of the knee joint or awkward movements while playing. Movements that are sudden, forceful can have a greater impact.

While it is possible that some persons are predisposed to soft tissue injuries, sometimes the typical traumatic movements may trigger the situation. It is more common in athletes and sports persons or holiday sports enthusiasts. The higher incidence of ACL tear in certain persons can be due to variations in muscular strength, neuromuscular control and physical fitness.

  • ACL tear can be caused if the side of the knee gets hard blow. Example during football sessions.
  • It can be caused if the knee joint is over extended.
  • ACL tear can be caused If the knee movement is stopped suddenly or altered in direction during jumping, running or turning.

The games that increases the risk of ACL tear are football, basketball, skiing.

Women are more prone to ACL tear than men for the same tasks in the field because of the less muscle mass. The larger hamstring muscle and the larger quadriceps muscles of the men are more protective of them than the women. This is why women are more susceptible to the ACL tear than men.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of ACL Tear?

A patient with ACL tear may narrate a typical story of movements like twisting of knee, landing from a jump or side stepping, and the knee suddenly giving way or feeling loose. This is immediately followed by extreme pain and swelling in the knee area. There may be a popping feeling in the knee as well. The full range of motion of the knee joint is affected with pain and discomfort while walking. An experienced physician can diagnose an ACL tear with history and clinical examination.

  • A typical sound of “popping” is audible just when ACL tear takes place.
  • One of the signs of ACL tear can be swelling of the knee within six hours of getting hurt.
  • Feeling of pain, especially at the time you try to place weight on the wounded leg.

The mild tear of the ACL may lead the knee to become wobbly and gives the sensation of giving away while walking.[4]

What Are The Risk Factors For ACL Tear?

Women are more likely to get injury of ACL tear than men, though both participate equally in the same sports and in the same field. The women’s front muscles of the thigh, Quadriceps are stronger than the back thigh muscles (hamstrings). The hamstrings control the shin bone to move forward during sports activities in the field. Sometimes after landing from high jump, few women experience ACL stress.

What Are The Complications of ACL Tear?

The complication of development of knee osteoarthritis increases among those who had got ACL tear. The complication arises because the joint cartilage gets worsened and the smooth surface becomes rough. The reconstructive surgery for ACL tear repair might also lead to arthritis.

What Diagnostic Tests Are Conducted For ACL Tear?

The tests done to diagnose the ACL tear starts with understanding how the injury has happened. In the beginning the knee can be inflated, painful and difficult to examine by the doctors. But, the health experts know well if the knee is filled with fluid (knee effusion). But, the swelling and pain may hold back in evaluating whether the ligaments are torn or not. After the remission of the swelling, the knee joint is assessed.

Knee joint might be tender and the quad muscle may be weak. There are tactics to test the steadiness of the ACL. The tests take in anterior drawer, the Lachman’s test, and the pivot shift test to pick whether the connection between the thigh bones and shin bone have been affected due to the ACL tear.

  • The diagnostic tests are also helpful to assess the structure of the damaged knee. Other injuries or tears may be found. These may be the collateral ligaments stress, and the damage of cartilage or menisci.
  • A plain image of X-ray can detect the busted bones linked with an ACL tear. Another test that can assess the knee anatomy is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). This test can find out if there is any injury in ligaments, bone and meniscus. But, each and every patient does not need to go through an MRI.
  • The ultrasound is the other way to visualize the internal structure of ACL tear and can be used to check the interior injuries in the muscles, tendon, and ligaments of the knee joint.[5]


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 8, 2020

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