The knee joint is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. Bringing together the thighbone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia), the knee joint helps to provide stability and movement for the body. Acting like a hinge, the knee joint allows the body to bend, sit, jump, and run.
The knee joint is made up of four components: bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
Bones: The thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella) all meet to form the bones of the knee joint.
Cartilage: The knee joint includes two types of cartilage: articular and meniscal. Articular cartilage allows the bones of the knee to glide over each other when bending or straightening your leg. Meniscal cartilage is more tough and rubbery providing cushion and stability between the femur and tibia.
Ligaments: The ligaments in the knee joint connect bone to other bone. There are four main ligaments in the knee that act like strong ropes providing stability in the knee.
Tendons: The quadriceps and patellar tendons connect the muscles in the bones within the knee. The quadriceps connect the muscles on the front of your thigh to your patella. The patellar tendon connects the patella to the shinbone.
The knee joint is very complex and is susceptible to a number of different injuries. Knee injuries commonly occur to the meniscus or to surrounding muscles. Other common knee injuries include tears in the tendons or ligaments.
Optimal Sports Physical Therapy provides rehabilitation services for meniscus tears, ACL injuries, patella dislocations, Osgood-Schlatter, patellar tendonitis, and more. Our injury treatment plans follow evidence-based guidelines and are customized to ensure individualized care based upon your goals. Our rehabilitation milestones do not occur on a set timeline. We focus on ensuring that you have the best outcomes so that you can get back in your game – safely.
While the knee is susceptible to a number of different injuries, ACL tears are one of the most common. Below is a review of what an ACL tear is, the symptoms, and treatments.
What is an ACL tear?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the main ligaments within the knee. Located deep inside the middle of the knee joint, the ACL connects the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia) and is responsible for helping to stabilize the knee joint when twisting.
An ACL injury occurs when the ligament itself is overstretched or torn. ACL injuries commonly occur during physical activity when you have sudden stops, turns, or extra rotation. ACL injuries can also occur with physical impact on the leg similar to a football tackle.
ACL tears include both partial tears and full tears. In a partial tear, the ligament is not torn all the way through or is partially torn off the bone with some fibers remaining intact. In a full tear, the ligament tears in two pieces or completely off of the bone. During an ACL injury, it is also common to experience injury to the other knee ligaments or the meniscus.
What are the symptoms of an ACL tear?
The most common symptoms of an ACL tear are:
- Hearing or feeling a pop in the knee when the injury occurs.
- Immediate pain and swelling in the knee.
- Increased pain and an inability to continue normal activities.
- When putting weight on the knee it feels unstable or like it is going to give way.
- A loss of range of motion in the knee. This includes bending or straightening the knee.
When should I see a doctor for an ACL tear?
If you experience a knee injury, seek immediate medical attention. It is important to properly and accurately diagnose and determine the severity of the injury. Medical imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, may be required to determine appropriate next steps for repair and rehabilitation.
After an ACL injury, the primary goal is to control the swelling that naturally occurs. Following the standard first aid procedures in the R.I.C.E method can help to reduce the initial swelling. Beginning these first aid steps at the first sign of injury can help to reduce or avoid further injury.
Follow these four steps in the R.I.C.E first aid method when an ACL injury occurs:
- Rest – As soon as you experience pain, stop the activity, and rest the impacted area. Try to avoid putting any weight on the injured area for 24 to 48 hours or until a medical evaluation is completed.
- Ice – Apply ice to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes, every hour for the first 24 hours. Ice can help to minimize swelling.
- Compression – Wrap the knee with an elastic bandage or ACE wrap to prevent swelling.
- Elevation – Elevate the injured leg above the level of the heart. Try laying back and propping the injured leg up on a pillow. Elevating the injured area can help to reduce pain, throbbing, and swelling.
The use of pain relievers can be used to help reduce swelling in the injured area. Following your doctor’s guidelines for the dose and frequency of any medications.
How is an ACL tear treated?
ACL tears are treated based upon their severity and type of injury. Surgical repair of the ACL is the most common course of treatment. However, for some patients, surgery may not be needed. All patients that experience an ACL tear will require physical therapy to regain strength and stability in the injured knee.
ACL rehabilitation programs focus on developing equal strength, range of motion, and control between both legs. Focusing on developing symmetry in the lower body helps to provide patients with the best long-term results. Advanced rehabilitation activities focus on core strength, neuromuscular training, balance training, and cardiovascular conditioning. Return to sport is the final phase of an ACL tear rehabilitation program. This final phase focuses on skills and drills that are sport-specific.
For even more details about ACL injuries and the treatments that we use at Optimal Sports Physical Therapy, check out our blog.
If you have recently experienced a knee injury, make an appointment to see one of our highly trained Physical Therapists. All of the Physical Therapists at Optimal Sports Physical Therapy have extensive training and experience helping patients achieve their rehabilitation goals. In the Helena, MT area, you can call our office at 406-502-1782 to schedule an appointment.