What happens when you tear your ACL?

An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is often the result of a sports activity, but non-athletes can also sustain ACL tears. ACL tears can be mild or severe. Your orthopedic doctor at Riverside Community Hospital will design a personalized treatment plan for you based on the severity of your injuries, your lifestyle and your overall health.

The anatomy and function of the ACL
Three bones comprise your knee joint: The kneecap (patella), thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). The bones are connected by four main ligaments at the knee joint. There are two collateral ligaments, which are located on either side of the knee.

The ACL is one of the cruciate ligaments, which cross over each other in an X shape. The ACL is in front of the other cruciate ligament, which is the posterior cruciate ligament. Your ACL ligament is responsible for keeping the tibia in place and stabilizing the knee as it moves.

The reasons for ACL tears
The ligament can become hyperextended. If it stretches out far enough, it can tear partially or completely. Often, ACL tears are accompanied by other types of orthopedic damage, such as trauma to the meniscus or articular cartilage.

The following movements can cause an ACL tear:

  • Suddenly stopping
  • Slowing down from a jog or sprint
  • Abruptly changing direction
  • Landing improperly after jumping
  • Sustaining direct physical trauma to the knee, such as from a football tackle

The signs and symptoms of ACL tears
ACL tears usually cause obvious symptoms, especially if it’s a complete tear. As soon as the ligament is injured, your knee might give way and you might fall to the ground. You may hear an abnormal “popping” sound.

ACL tears can be quite painful. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Swelling within 24 hours
  • Discomfort while walking or inability to place weight on the leg
  • Tenderness
  • Loss of range of motion

Riverside Community Hospital is a leading destination for patients with orthopedic conditions who demand superior medical services and individualized, attentive care. Our orthopedics program provides a continuum of care—from diagnostics to surgery to follow-up care. Call (951) 788-3463 to request a referral to a specialist in Riverside.

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