What is an ACL Tear?

What is an ACL Tear?
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury illustration

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are strong bands of tissue that connect your thigh bone (femur) to your shinbone (tibia). A tear or sprain of the ACL is most commonly associated with sports injuries. The tear usually involves sudden changes in direction or stops, possibly while jumping or landing.

An ACL injury occurs in your knee. Individuals with ACL injuries report hearing a "popping" sound with the "buckling" of the knee. The knee will often swell and become too painful to put weight on the leg.

The severity of the ACL injury will determine the course of treatment. In some cases, rehabilitation exercises and rest can help strengthen the ACL. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed to repair or reconstruct the torn ligament, followed by rehabilitation. As with any physical activity, strength training exercises will help reduce the risk of injuring the ACL.

Torn or Injured ACL Symptoms

Symptoms

ACL injuries are the most common knee injuries. Athletes who partake in demanding sports such as football, soccer, skiing, or basketball are most at risk of developing an ACL injury. If you believe you may have injured your ACL, some common symptoms are:

  • A "popping" sound or feeling in the knee
  • Severe pain and inability to continue activity
  • Swelling and pain
  • Loss of range of motion
  • A sense of instability when weight is put on the knee

How do you Tear or Injure your ACL?

Causes

Athletes who play contact sports or people who engage in demanding physical exercise are at a higher risk of tearing their ACL. Sports that pose the most risk for an ACL injury include:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Lacrosse
  • Soccer
  • Skiing
  • Rugby
  • Sports which include jumping, pivoting or rapid change of direction

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

The ACL can be injured in several ways. People who play contact sports often suffer damage to their ACL. Sports that require changing direction quickly, jumping and landing, direct contact like a football tackle, or stopping or suddenly slowing down all put the ACL at risk.

ACL risk factors include:

  • Gender, as females are more likely to injure their ACL than men
  • Genetic factors and physical makeup are all factors that can affect an injury to your ACL
  • A previous knee injury can make your knee more susceptible to further damage

ACL injuries to teenagers

ACL injuries are common among active and athletic teenagers. These injuries can happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint resulting in a torn ligament. Teens who play sports that require quick change movements or sudden stopping are at risk of incurring ACL injuries.

How to Prevent a Torn or Injured ACL

Prevention

Tearing your ACL can lead to other injuries and arthritis. The best way to prevent an ACL tear is to learn the right exercises and muscle strengthening techniques to reduce the risk of damaging your ACL. Engaging in physical conditioning and muscular strength exercises can minimize your ACL's injury chance.

Meeting with a sports medicine specialist to discuss ways to lessen your chance of injury is practical advice for an athletic person. Strength training, warming up, and using the proper footwear are topics to be discussed with an expert sports medicine specialist.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for ACL Tear Treatment

At New York-Presbyterian, our sports medicine specialists have the knowledge and expertise to understand and treat ACL injuries to return the athlete to top-performing condition.

NewYork-Presbyterian and its affiliated Ivy League medical school, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, offer sports medicine and orthopedic services throughout New York City and the surrounding areas. With offices located close to home, you can feel confident that NewYork-Presbyterian is by your side from treatment through rehabilitation.