If you're a sports fan, you've probably heard of an ACL injury (and cringed if it happened to one of the players on your fantasy team). But these knee injuries aren't limited to star athletes.
"ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament, and a tear or partial tear of the ligament is a common knee injury," says Lance Barlas, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at
Petaluma Valley Hospital in Petaluma. In fact, there are about 150,000 ACL injuries reported in the United States each year—adding up to more than a half-billion dollars in health care costs annually, according to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.
The ACL is one of four primary knee ligaments that hold together the tibia and femur bones in that area. "The ACL is in the middle of the knee," Dr. Barlas says. "It's important because it helps control motion in the knee and promotes knee stability. That's why an ACL injury can be debilitating not just when it comes to playing sports, but in managing the tasks of daily life."
About 30 percent of ACL injuries occur because of rough contact, usually during sports—think a hard tackle in football or an accidental collision between two running soccer players. The other 70 percent are non-contact injuries.
"Say you're on your morning jog and you stop or change direction suddenly; that can cause an ACL injury," says Dr. Barlas adding that another possibility for injury is landing incorrectly after a jump. "If you get an ACL injury, you can hear a popping sound and your knee will either feel weak or give way completely. The knee will become swollen within hours and it will be painful trying to use your full range of motion."
You may get some short-term relief for your ACL injury by raising your leg above heart level and icing the knee, but any knee injury requires an examination by a doctor, who may also order x-rays or an MRI.
"ACL injuries can range in severity from grade 1 to grade 3, the latter meaning a complete tear of the ACL," Dr. Barlas says. "Also, if you have an ACL injury, it's often accompanied by injuries to other knee ligaments or cartilage, so it's best to have your doctor look at it right away to get treatment started."
Sometimes a lower-grade ACL injury can be helped with a knee brace and crutches, and physical therapy, though it does leave you susceptible to more damage down the road if the injury isn't fixed.
If you're active or the ACL injury is severe, arthroscopic surgery repairs the knee by grafting tissue from tendons in your body onto the torn ACL so a new ligament can grow. It can take at least six months to fully recuperate from ACL surgery, and rehabilitation also includes intensive physical therapy to rebuild strength in the knee.
To help avoid ACL injuries, Dr. Barlas recommends talking with your doctor about balance, stability and muscle-building plyometric exercises. "If you play a sport, even recreationally, make sure you know the proper technique for motions such as kicking, jumping and running," Dr. Barlas says. "Having proper form, and a properly conditioned body, can help prevent injury."
For more information about Dr. Barlas, click here. For more information about Petaluma Valley Hospital,
visit the website.