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How are ACL tears treated?

We may not be able to diagnose an ACL tear immediately due to the swelling, but we can prescribe treatment until the swelling goes down. The initial treatment for an ACL injury for the first 48 hours is PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and pain medication. After the swelling goes down, we will take an X-ray or do an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the knee. It is preferable to treat an ACL injury conservatively, however, most people who want to continue to play sports will choose to undergo ACL reconstruction surgery. We may recommend surgery if the injury is severe or if physical therapy does not make the knee stable enough to return to normal activity.

Non-surgical option: Surgery is not always necessary for a torn ACL – it depends on the extent of the tear and the activity level of the patient. Often the non-super athlete types can perform their day-to-day activities with no issues. If the injury is mild, you may be able to recover with the help of physical therapy alone. We have a state-of-the-art Physical Therapy Facility staffed by experts who teach exercises that help restore the motion of the knee and strengthen the muscles around it. For those who do not have surgery, there is the likelihood of repeated knee instability. Each time the knee gives out, there is an increased risk of damage to the meniscal or surface cartilage in the knee, which is extremely difficult to repair and can cause arthritis later in life. For those that do require surgery, we typically find that people are back to their pre-surgery athletics by four months post-surgery, with very few restrictions.

ACL surgery: An ACL tear used to mean invasive surgery, large incisions, a lot of blood loss, and staples, followed by extensive physical therapy. In recent years, we have seen exciting advances in surgical methods in many areas, including ACL reconstruction and repair – so much so that even a professional athlete can be back on the field, greens, or court more quickly than many previously thought possible.

Return to the ACL Care page.

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