Diagnosis and Treatment of an ACL Injury in Wake County

What is an ACL Injury?

ACL injuries are unfortunately familiar to athletes of all kinds. The ACL, which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, is the most commonly injured ligament in the knee. This important part of the knee prevents the joint from bending or rotating too much, with injury occurring when it is bent or twisted further than its natural limit. ACL injuries are often accompanied by other injuries around the knee. If you have injured your knee playing sports or moving around your home, you should seek guidance from an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. When you meet with one of our doctors at Raleigh Orthopaedic, we will take the time to get to know you and provide a personalized treatment plan for your injury. Learn more below about ACL injuries and how they are treated, and contact the Raleigh Orthopaedic location nearest you for the orthopedic care you deserve!

What Causes ACL Injuries?

When people think of an ACL injury, they normally think of a sprain or tear of the ligament. As mentioned above, these injuries occur when the ACL is stretched beyond its natural limit. Most ACL injuries are complete tears of the ligament. There are several different ways an individual can damage their ACL. Many of these events occur during sports and are caused when the athlete rapidly changes direction, stops suddenly, slows down while running, incorrectly lands from a jump, or collides with another person. ACL injuries occur in people of all ages and athletic levels. These injuries are common in athletes who play football, soccer, basketball, and gymnastics.

Symptoms of an ACL Injury

Several symptoms indicate that an ACL injury is present. Some of these occur at the time of the injury, while others develop later. Signs and symptoms of an ACL injury include:

  • A popping sound or sensation in the knee
  • Sudden, severe pain and swelling
  • Swelling that occurs within 24 hours of the injury
  • Reduced range of motion
  • A feeling of instability in the knee
  • Joint pain and tenderness
  • Difficulty walking

How is an ACL Injury Diagnosed?

When you come to see a Raleigh Orthopaedic sports medicine specialist with a suspected ACL injury, they will start with a physical examination of your knee. This will include checking for swelling and tenderness while comparing your injured knee to your uninjured one. They will assess your range of motion and the overall function of the knee joint. ACL injuries can usually be diagnosed using these methods alone, but imaging tests may be ordered to rule out other causes of injury and determine the severity of the tear or sprain. An X-ray can be used to rule out a knee fracture. Since X-rays don’t show ligaments or tendons, your doctor may recommend an MRI or ultrasound, which can be used to assess the extent of your injury and determine if other parts of the knee are involved. From there, your care team at Raleigh Orthopaedic will create a treatment plan specific to your injury and take your goals and activity level into account.

Treatment Options for ACL Injuries at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Nonsurgical Treatment

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Certain steps should be taken immediately after an ACL injury occurs to reduce pain and swelling. Athletes should follow the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) at home until they can see a physician and get an exact diagnosis. Your specific treatment plan will depend on your individual needs and activity levels. Less active, older individuals can often return to their regular activities following nonsurgical treatment methods. Rehabilitation is a core part of ACL injury recovery. You’ll work with a physical therapist to reduce pain and swelling, restore the knee’s full range of motion, and strengthen the surrounding muscles. Patients who are more active and want to resume participation in their sports may require surgery to regain the full function of their knee.

Surgical Treatment Options

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Surgical treatment for an ACL injury is often recommended to athletes who want to continue their sport, especially when that sport involves jumping, cutting, or pivoting. Other indications for surgery include injury to more than one ligament in the knee and your knee buckling during everyday activities. ACL injuries are usually addressed via ACL reconstruction. This procedure involves the removal of the damaged ligament, which is then replaced with a tendon graft. This new tendon can be taken from another part of the knee. Physical therapy is extremely important both before and after surgery. Swelling and stiffness must subside before surgery takes place. Your specialist at Raleigh Orthopaedic will walk you through your treatment options and answer any questions you have about your surgery. They will also ensure you have all the information you need for a successful recovery at home.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from an ACL Injury?

ACL injury recovery time varies from patient to patient. No timeline for return to play applies to every athlete. Your doctor will let you know what to expect based on your specific injury and whether or not other parts of the knee are involved. In general, it can take up to a year or more to safely return to sports. Returning too soon puts you at risk for re-injury. Your recovery period will include regular tests of your knee’s strength and function by your doctor and physical therapist. Based on your results, they will be able to let you know when you can return to your regular activities.

How to Prevent an ACL Injury

Although ACL injuries usually occur suddenly, there are certain guidelines you can follow to potentially avoid these injuries while playing your sport. You should always warm up before exercising and participating in sports, and ensure that your footwear fits properly. All sports equipment you use should be properly maintained and you should use the correct form when performing movements that place pressure on the knee. Working with a sports medicine physician or athletic trainer can also help reduce your risk of ACL injury. Exercises to strengthen your core and leg muscles and emphasize proper technique can be extremely beneficial for all athletes.

Personalized Knee Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic

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Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, helping patients of all ages get back to doing what they love each and every day. We provide comprehensive orthopedic and sports medicine care focused on various parts of the body, including the knee and lower extremities. If you are experiencing orthopedic pain or have recently been injured playing your favorite sport, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with a member of our team today. Book online or call us to get access to the orthopedic care you deserve!