The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the part of the knee joint that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone.
A complete or partial ACL tear can result from the following:
- A hit on the side of the knee
- Overstretching the knee
- A quick stop and change of direction while running, landing from a jump or turning
Girls and women are at greater risk for ACL tears than boys and men. Among other factors, higher estrogen levels in women weaken tendons, making them more vulnerable to tears.
Signs You Should Get Help for an ACL Injury
See a sports medicine specialist if any of the following occur:
- You hear or feel a "pop" in your knee at the time of an injury or during physical activity.
- You feel pain in your knee, especially when you stand or walk.
- Your knee swells within 6 hours of an injury, and the swelling doesn't go away after resting, icing and elevating the knee.
- Your knee feels unstable or like it’s going to "give out" when you stand or walk.
Do not play sports or do other intense physical activities until you have seen a doctor and been diagnosed.
Treatment for ACL Tears at Rush
Whether you're a weekend warrior or a high-level athlete, a torn ACL doesn't have to mean the end of your active lifestyle. Improvements in surgery and rehabilitation over the past few decades are enabling most people to successfully recover from this once-catastrophic injury.
Nonsurgical ACL Tear Treatment
- If you have an ACL tear, you may need to use crutches to walk until the swelling and pain go away.
- Your sports medicine specialist may also send you for a course of physical therapy to improve joint motion and leg strength.
Surgery for an ACL Tear
- For more serious tears, your doctor may recommend reconstructive surgery to prevent damage to other parts of the knee and future arthritis, as well as stabilize and improve your knee's function.
- In this procedure, surgeons use a graft (a tendon taken from another part of your body or from a deceased donor) to replace your torn ACL.
- In most cases, Rush orthopedic surgeons perform ACL reconstruction using smaller incisions (arthroscopic surgery) to speed recovery and minimize the risk of infection.
- Sometimes a larger incision is necessary, and your doctor will discuss all options with you.
- After surgery, you'll need to wear a knee brace for one to four weeks. You may also need crutches for the first week.
- You may need pain medication, though we try to limit the amount of opioid medication we prescribe.
- You will complete an intense but gradual rehabilitation regimen, working with a physical therapist to strengthen your knee and regain full range of motion.
- At the end of your therapy, our team will assess whether you are ready to return to sports and other high-intensity activities. At some of our locations, we offer functional sports assessments to identify potential weaknesses and risk of further injury before you return to play.
Rush Excellence in ACL Care
- Nationally recognized orthopedic care: The orthopedics program at Rush University Medical Center is ranked No. 8 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
- Experienced knee surgeons: Research has shown that the more experience surgeons and hospitals have with a procedure, the better their patients' results. Rush sports medicine surgeons were among the first in Chicago to perform arthroscopic ACL surgery, and our surgeons now perform tens of thousands of ACL reconstructions every year.
- Convenient care: You can receive complete care for a torn ACL at any of our locations. You can see an orthopedic specialist, get your imaging tests, have outpatient procedures and go through rehabilitation — all under one roof.