How to treat an ACL injury
Particular risk for injuries: football, skiing, martial arts and similar sports
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the “bands” that helps connect the bones between the upper and lower leg. It also provides stability in the knee during movement and activities. The ACL can be strained or torn during more rigorous activities, such as skiing, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, and other sports that require quick changes in direction or those that make abrupt stops.
Most ACL injuries will be signaled by a “pop” followed by severe pain and swelling. Those with ACL injuries will feel instability in the knee and will likely need assistance. Immediate treatment for ACL injuries is to immobilize the knee and leg, use compression to help reduce swelling, and then ice to reduce pain.
The long-term treatment for ACL injuries will be determined by a physician that will assess the injury and the needs of the patient. In many cases, the treatment will include surgery to repair the ligament, physical therapy and conservative measures to support the plan.
- Once the acute pain has diminished, regular physical therapy is usually prescribed.
- Electro-physiotherapy, ultrasound and ice packs can also be used for treatment, either uniquely or in combination.
- Consistent muscle training helps the muscles take over the task of the torn cruciate ligament.
- Supportive knee braces are used, particularly during sports and after operations. These enable mobility to be regained step-by-step and relieve stresses on the knee joint by stabilizing it.
What bracing is used in the treatment of ACL injuries?
Most ACL injuries are treated by orthopedic surgeons who will determine a specific treatment plan. Most treatment plans will include bracing throughout the rehab process and even as a preventive measure. Immediately after diagnosis and for weeks after the surgery, an immobilizing rehabilitation brace will be used. These braces are designed to adjust as the patient progresses through treatment and have a ‘Range-of-Motion’ or ROM feature. When the patient becomes more active and begins to engage in activities, an ACL brace will be recommended. These are rigid braces with functional hinges that allow the patient to feel more confident and secure engaging back into their lifestyle or sport. When patients are completely healed, clinicians will recommend a braced designed for high levels of activity with more comfort features verses an ACL brace.