During the physical exam, your doctor will check your knee for swelling and tenderness — comparing your injured knee to your uninjured knee. He or she also may move your knee into a variety of positions, to help determine if your ACL is torn.
Often the diagnosis can be made on the basis of the physical exam alone, but you may need tests to rule out other causes and to determine the severity of the injury. These tests may include:
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- X-rays. X-rays may be needed to rule out a bone fracture. However, X-rays can't visualize soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create images of both hard and soft tissues within your body. An MRI can show the extent of an ACL injury and whether other knee ligaments or joint cartilage also are injured.
- Ultrasound. Using sound waves to visualize internal structures, ultrasound may be used to check for injuries in the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the knee.
- Frontera WR, et al. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-6/0/1678/0.html. Accessed Oct. 25, 2012.
- Friedberg RP. Anterior cruciate ligament injury. http://www.uptodate.com /index. Accessed Oct. 25, 2012.
- ACL injury: Does it require surgery? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00297. Accessed Oct. 25, 2012.
- DeLee JC, et al. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-3143-7..X0001-2--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-3143-7&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed Oct. 25, 2012.
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury prevention. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://www.sportsmed.org/Patient/Sports_Tips/AOSSM_Sports_Tips_Sheets. Accessed Oct. 25, 2012.