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ACL Injury

Top Orthopedic Knee Surgeons in Orange County

What is an ACL Injury?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four major ligaments in the knee joint. It helps maintain the knee’s rotational stability and prevents the tibia (shinbone) from slipping in front of the femur (thighbone). An ACL injury is either a tear or sprain. An ACL tear can be either a complete tear or partial tear. ACL injuries occur when the knee is hyperextended. These are common among athletes whose sports involve sudden changes in direction, pivoting, jumping, and landing. Such physical activities commonly include soccer, basketball, football, and downhill skiing. Severe ACL tears generally require surgery to repair.

What’s the difference between an ACL Sprain and an ACL Tear?

An ACL sprain occurs when excessive force or a sudden movement causes the fibers or threads of the ligament to stretch, partially tear or in severe cases, completely rupture. ACL sprains are painful and graded on their severity with grades 1-3. A grade 1 sprain is the least severe, while a grade 3 is a complete rupture.

An ACL tear is when the anterior cruciate ligament is torn, either partial or a full tear. With an ACL tear you will feel severe pain, frequent popping noise, loss of range of motion in the affected knee followed by the sudden onset of swelling. As swelling progresses, it may become more difficult to bend or straighten the knee or place any weight on the affected leg so their leg doesn’t give way. Once you sustain an ACL tear, it’s important to administer prompt first-aid care to reduce acute pain and swelling. You should see an orthopedic knee surgeon right way, but in the meantime, make sure you practice the “RICE” method as soon as possible: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.


A clinical exam involving moving the knee in a variety of positions to assess range of motion and overall function of the knee joint will be performed by your knee surgeon. They will also check your knee for swelling and tenderness – comparing it to your non-injured knee. Your doctor may also order imaging tests like X-rays, MRI and ultrasound imaging to rule out other causes, such as a meniscus tear and to determine the severity of the injury.

Treatment Options for ACL Tears

Surgery is not necessary for all patients. A young athlete will most likely require surgery to safely return to sports. However, a less active, older patient may be able to return to a quieter lifestyle without surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatments for ACL Tears

  • Bracing: A brace can protect your knee from instability. You may be given crutches to keep from putting your full weight on your injured leg.
  • Physical therapy: Specific exercises can help to restore function to your knee and strengthen the muscles that support it. However, PT can only begin once swelling has gone down.

ACL Reconstruction Surgery

To surgically repair the ACL and restore function to the knee joint, the ligament must be reconstructed. Your knee surgeon will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft taken from another part of your knee or from a cadaver. This graft acts as a scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on.

ACL reconstruction surgery is generally scheduled three to six weeks after the injury occurs to ensure swelling and inflammation have subsided. ACL reconstruction is a minimally invasive procedure outpatient procedure that is done arthroscopically.

Recovery from ACL Surgery

During recovery, physical therapy is necessary to improve range of motion, gait, and function. It usually takes six to nine months for a patient to return to participating in sports after ACL reconstruction, depending on the type of activity. Make sure you discuss when you can return to your sports and activities with your orthopedic knee surgeon.

Trust the Knee Surgeons at Newport Orthopedic Institute

Our board-certified, fellowship-trained Orange County knee surgeons are skilled at treating ACL injuries. Your knee surgeon will create a custom treatment plan to help you get back to doing the activities you enjoy.

Do you have an ACL injury in Orange County?
Call Newport Orthopedic Institute at (949) 722-7038.

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