Prompt first-aid care can reduce pain and swelling immediately after an injury to your knee. Follow the R.I.C.E. model of self-care at home:
- Rest. General rest is necessary for healing and limits weight bearing on your knee.
- Ice. When you're awake, try to ice your knee at least every two hours for 20 minutes at a time.
- Compression. Wrap an elastic bandage or compression wrap around your knee.
- Elevation. Lie down with your knee propped up on pillows.
Medical treatment for an ACL injury begins with several weeks of rehabilitative therapy. A physical therapist will teach you how to do exercises that you will perform either with continued supervision or at home. You may also wear a brace to stabilize your knee and use crutches for a while to avoid putting weight on your knee.
The goal of rehabilitation is to reduce pain and swelling, restore your knee's full range of motion, and strengthen muscles. This course of physical therapy may successfully treat an ACL injury for individuals who are relatively inactive, engage in moderate exercise and recreational activities, or play sports that put less stress on the knees.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if:
- You're an athlete and want to continue in your sport, especially if the sport involves jumping, cutting or pivoting
- More than one ligament or the cartilage in your knee is injured
- You're young and active
- The injury is causing your knee to buckle during everyday activities
During ACL reconstruction, the surgeon removes the damaged ligament and replaces it with a segment of tendon — tissue similar to a ligament that connects muscle to bone. This replacement tissue is called a graft. Your surgeon will use a piece of tendon from another part of your knee or a tendon from a deceased donor. The graft will serve as scaffolding on which new ligament tissue can grow.
After surgery you'll resume another course of rehabilitative therapy. Successful ACL reconstruction paired with rigorous rehabilitation can usually restore stability and function to your knee. Athletes often can return to their sports after eight to 12 months.
Jan. 12, 2017
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- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00549. Accessed Oct. 15, 2015.
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- ACL injuries in young athletes. Stop Sport Injuries. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/acl-injury-prevention.aspx. Accessed Nov. 24, 2015.