ACL Injury

Article by J.Miller, Z.Russell

ACL Injury

A Comprehensive Guide from a Physiotherapist’s Perspective

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common and challenging knee injuries. This guide, enriched with a physiotherapist’s insights, aims to deepen your understanding of ACL injuries, including their nature, treatment options, and the vital role of rehabilitation, with an emphasis on the latest research and techniques.

What is an ACL Injury?

The ACL, a key stabiliser in the knee, often incurs injuries such as tears and ruptures. These injuries can cause severe pain, swelling, and instability, severely limiting daily activities and sports participation.

How Do ACL Injuries Occur?

Most ACL injuries in sports occur without direct contact, often during abrupt directional changes. Women are more prone to these injuries, likely due to biomechanical, strength, and hormonal differences.

Sports with High ACL Injury Risks

Contact sports like football, rugby, AFL, basketball, netball, touch, volleyball, and skiing have high ACL injury rates. These injuries can profoundly affect an athlete’s career, influencing decisions about surgery and returning to sports.

Recognising and Diagnosing ACL Injuries

Identifying Symptoms

Symptoms include intense knee pain, a ‘pop’ sound at the injury time, swelling, instability, reduced joint motion, and the knee giving way under stress. Early diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment.

Diagnosis: A Clinical Perspective

Diagnosis typically involves a physical exam and imaging tests like MRI scans. The Lachman test or pivot shift test are common physical assessments, while X-rays are less effective due to their focus on bony structures.

ACL injury
Acl Injury

Treatment Approaches for ACL Injuries

Navigating Treatment Options

Treatment decisions depend on age, activity levels, and knee stability. ACL surgery isn’t always necessary. Some patients may find temporary relief as swelling reduces, but this can mask underlying instability issues.

The Role of Rehabilitation

A comprehensive ACL-Deficient Knee Rehabilitation Programme, focusing on strengthening, proprioception, and balance, is essential for those avoiding or delaying surgery. This programme is expertly guided by sports physiotherapists.

Surgical Considerations

ACL reconstruction surgery, involving tendon or ligament grafts, is common. The choice of graft depends on individual factors like age and activity level. New techniques, like double-bundle ACL reconstruction, are emerging, offering more stability. Post-operative rehabilitation is crucial for a successful recovery.

Innovations and New Research in ACL Treatment

Cross Bracing: A New Frontier

Recent studies have introduced cross bracing as a novel non-surgical treatment. This involves immobilising the injured knee at 90 degrees for 4 weeks, gradually increasing the range of motion until brace removal at 12 weeks. This method has shown promising results in promoting ACL healing, with 90% of patients showing evidence of healing on MRI three months post-rupture.

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Exercise-Based Rehabilitation: A Cornerstone of ACL Recovery

Recent evidence underscores the importance of exercise-based rehabilitation. This approach focuses on restoring knee function, enhancing muscle strength, and improving joint stability, crucial for both non-operative and post-operative patients.

Key Components of Exercise-Based Rehabilitation

Strength Training

Strengthening exercises, especially for the quadriceps and hamstrings, are vital. They enhance knee stability and support the joint, reducing re-injury risks.

Proprioception and Balance Training

Improving proprioception (the body’s ability to sense movement and position) is crucial. These exercises help patients regain control and coordination of the knee joint.

Agility and Plyometric Exercises

For athletes, agility and plyometric exercises are essential for regaining explosive power and sport-specific movements.

High-Level Balance Retraining

This involves challenging the knee joint under various conditions to improve stability and function in everyday activities and sports.

Functional Training

Tailoring exercises to mimic specific sports or daily activities ensures a safe and effective return to pre-injury levels.

The Role of Physiotherapists in ACL Rehabilitation

Physiotherapists are pivotal in designing and supervising rehabilitation programs. Their knowledge ensures exercises are performed correctly and safely, catering to the unique needs of each patient. Rehabilitation programs should be individualised, considering the injury’s severity, patient’s age, activity level, and specific goals.

Preventing ACL Injuries

Neuromuscular training, particularly for females, proper techniques, appropriate gear, and gradual intensity increases in exercises are key preventive measures. Many sport-specific prevention programs have been established. FIFA 11+ and Netball’s Knee Program are two examples.

Post-Surgical Rehabilitation

Post-surgical rehabilitation, guided by a sports physiotherapist, focuses on restoring knee function and strength. Neglecting this phase can lead to poor outcomes.

Special Considerations for Children and Return to Sports

For children, ACL surgery decisions involve assessing risks like growth disturbances. It is particularly important to seek a knee surgeon’s opinion if meniscal tears also occur at the time of injury. A comprehensive rehabilitation programme addresses both physical and psychological aspects, key to a safe return to sports. Professional guidance minimises re-injury risks.

Conclusion: The Importance of Professional Advice

An ACL injury requires careful management and informed decision-making. Physiotherapists and knee surgeons play a crucial role in treatment and rehabilitation, offering professional guidance tailored to individual needs. Consulting a physiotherapist is essential for effective recovery and a safe return to normal activities or sports. Remember, early intervention and professional advice can significantly influence your journey to recovery.

Related Articles

  1. ACL Injury Prevention: This article discusses strategies and programs designed to reduce the risk of ACL injuries, highlighting the significant impact of prevention training on reducing injury rates​​.
  2. ACL Injury FAQs: Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery Guide: Offers straightforward answers to common questions about ACL injuries, covering symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and recovery tips​​.
  3. Knee Ligament Injury – Physiotherapist Guide & Tips: Provides a broader look at knee ligament injuries, including ACL injuries, with tips on prevention, early detection, and effective treatment strategies​​.
  4. ACL Surgery: The Benefits And Risks For Informed Decisions: Explores the considerations involved in deciding whether to undergo ACL surgery, discussing the potential benefits and risks to help patients make informed choices​​.
  5. What If You Don’t Get ACL Surgery?: This article examines non-surgical approaches to managing ACL injuries, including what to expect from rehabilitation and factors to consider when deciding against surgery​​.
  6. What Is The Main Function Of The ACL?: Explains the anatomical and functional importance of the ACL in knee stability, providing foundational knowledge that underscores the significance of ACL injuries and their impact​​.
  7. Ligament Tear: Offers insights into common ligament injuries, including those affecting the ACL, and provides guidance on prevention, early detection, and treatment options​​.

ACL Injury FAQs

ACL Injury FAQs
Acl Injury Faqs

ACL Injury FAQ Guide

Welcome to our ACL FAQs guide, where we'll provide straightforward answers to your questions about ACL injuries. Discover what an ACL injury is and its main function in your knee. Learn about Level I ACL-risk sports and effective injury prevention strategies. Understand how ACL diagnoses are made and recognise the symptoms of a tear. Uncover insights on MRI scans for knee injuries and explore various treatment options, including whether surgery is necessary.

We'll also shed light on living without an ACL, the choice between reconstruction and exercise, and the best surgical approaches. Plus, find out what might happen if you opt out of surgery. Finally, gain valuable insights into post-ACL reconstruction rehabilitation and the role of ACL braces. Get ready to dive into the world of ACL injuries and solutions.

Common ACL Questions

Diagnosing ACL Injuries

ACL Treatment Options

ACL Surgical Reconstruction

Related Knee Injuries


In summary, this ACL Injury FAQ page provides hyper links to comprehensive insights into the symptoms, treatment options, and recovery processes for ACL injuries. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed decisions about your health and recovery journey.

If you suspect an ACL injury or are experiencing persistent knee problems, it's crucial to seek professional medical advice. Don't hesitate to book an appointment with a knee physiotherapist or Orthopaedic surgeon for a diagnosis and personalised treatment plan.

Remember, timely intervention and professional guidance are key to a successful recovery and returning to your active lifestyle.

Related Articles

  1. ACL Injury Treatment - Readers will find comprehensive treatment options for ACL injuries, including both surgical and non-surgical methods.
  2. Knee Ligament Injuries - This page explains different types of knee ligament injuries, including the ACL, and their treatment options.
  3. Knee Pain & Conditions - Discover various knee conditions and their symptoms, treatment, and prevention strategies.
  4. Meniscus Tear - Learn about meniscus tears, a common knee injury that can accompany ACL injuries, including how they are diagnosed and treated.
  5. Post-Surgery Knee Rehabilitation - Gain insights into effective rehabilitation strategies following knee surgery, which is crucial for ACL injury recovery.
  6. Knee Braces for ACL Injuries - This article discusses the role of knee braces in supporting and protecting the ACL during recovery.
  7. Sports Physiotherapy - Find out how sports physiotherapy can help in the prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries, including ACL injuries.
  8. Preventing ACL Injuries in Women - Learn why ACL injuries are more common in women and discover strategies for prevention.
  9. Knee Arthritis - Understand how ACL injuries can lead to or exacerbate knee arthritis, and explore treatment options.
  10. Running Injuries - Since running can impact ACL injuries, this page provides insights on prevention and management of running-related knee issues.
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