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Is Surgery Needed for an ACL Tear?

The ACL is the most commonly injured ligament in the knee with an estimated 200,000 ACL-related injuries occurring annually in the United States.

The ACL is a strong ligament that connects the femur to the tibia, and it helps stabilize the knee when you change direction rapidly or stop suddenly. It absorbs an incredible amount of stress and is therefore susceptible to tearing. Because of its role, a torn ACL most frequently occurs as a sports injury, especially in those sports such as football, basketball, or rugby involving pivoting or sudden changes in direction.

Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the most common symptoms of an ACL tear and can be accompanied by a loud popping noise or the feeling of instability in the knee.

If you have torn your ACL, you are probably asking the question - do I need surgery? What is the best treatment for repair? The answer to these questions is - it depends. The treatment for a torn ACL depends on the patient’s range of activity and the grade of the tear.

Range of Activity:

For patients who are not actively involved in sports, non-surgical treatment can be successful. For patients who are actively involved in sports, surgery is almost always recommended. An ACL tear in a highly active patient that is only treated through non-surgical means will likely result in future meniscal damage, additional cartilage damage, knee instability, and osteoarthritis.

Grade of the Tear:

Minor tears can be treated with non-surgical methods. Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles in the legs and bring stability to the knee while compensating for the torn ACL. Regenerative medicine may also be a viable treatment when surgery is not indicated. Full or large tears cannot heal without surgery.

Although a torn ACL is a common injury, the treatment plan is not common. Treatment for a torn ACL is specific to each patient depending on the range of activity and grade of the tear. Because each patient’s injury and circumstances are unique, it is important to have your knee thoroughly evaluated so that the best treatment plan can be determined for your success.

About the Author
Anup Shah, MD, FAAOS
Anup Shah, MD

Dr. Anup Shah is a board-certified, fellowship-trained Sports Medicine Orthopedic surgeon specializing in Knee and Shoulder Surgery in Phoenix, Arizona at Banner Health. Dr. Shah uses a patient-centric and an evidence-based approach to help his patients achieve their desired goals.

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