What is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rupture?

Steve R.

An anterior cruciate ligament rupture occurs when this knee ligament is torn off the femur bone. The injury takes place when too much pressure is put on the ligament and the tissue gives way. Most anterior cruciate ligament tears are sports-related injuries and may result from contact, stopping too quickly, or landing awkwardly. An anterior cruciate ligament rupture is painful, involves swelling, and restricts movement. Through reconstructive surgery and physical therapy, a person generally can generally recover full range of motion in his or her knee.

Soccer players are prone to anterior cruciate ligament ruptures.
Soccer players are prone to anterior cruciate ligament ruptures.

Nearly 100,000 people each year suffer an anterior cruciate ligament rupture and women are more apt to contract the injury than men. Football players, skiers, basketball players, and soccer players are prone to the injury as they are at risk to hyperextend their knee or be the recipient of a forceful blow. Sometimes damage to the ligament may be the result of noncontact such as when an athlete plants his or her foot and then suddenly tries to move in a different direction. The injury may also take place in non-athletes during a car accident or after a long period of wear and tear on the knee.

A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament.
A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament.

After experiencing an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, a person generally will experience so much pain he will not be able to withstand putting any pressure on the affected area. In most cases after a rupture, a person will need immediate medical attention. The tear may be confirmed through a magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasound. An arthroscopy, which uses a small instrument to view knee damage, may be used to diagnose the injury.

Hyperextending the knee while playing football can lead to a rupture of the ACL.
Hyperextending the knee while playing football can lead to a rupture of the ACL.

Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery may involve using tendons from other parts of a patient’s body to replace the ruptured tissue. Most often, tendons from either the patella or hamstring will be used as a replacement. In cases when a person’s own body parts are not a good option or the injury is too severe, a person may need an allograft. This procedure involves the grafting tissue from a donor.

Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can occur when the knee suffers a sudden, direct blow.
Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can occur when the knee suffers a sudden, direct blow.

Arthroscopic surgery for repairing the anterior cruciate ligament is often performed on an outpatient basis. Open surgery is more likely to require an overnight stay, or several days in the hospital. The surgery itself typically takes less than three hours to perform.

Following reconstructive surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, a patient will require physical therapy.
Following reconstructive surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, a patient will require physical therapy.

After surgery, a patient may require crutches and also a knee brace for support. Physical therapy will be needed. Through repetition of exercises that focus on strengthening muscles and stability, a person gradually begins to recapture range of motion. Usually within nine months after therapy a person will regain full range of motion.

An ultrasound can be used to confirm a tear of the ACL.
An ultrasound can be used to confirm a tear of the ACL.
The ACL is the most commonly injured ligament in the knee.
The ACL is the most commonly injured ligament in the knee.
After surgery for a ruptured ACL, a patient may require crutches.
After surgery for a ruptured ACL, a patient may require crutches.

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