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Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear

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

One telltale sign of an ACL tear is hearing or feeling a “pop” in your knee at the time of the injury.

ACL tears: what you should know

  • ACL tears often occur with other knee injuries, including tears of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and torn meniscus cartilage in the knee.
  • Though some people can function normally with a torn ACL, many others complain that their knee is unstable and feels like it may “give out” with physical activity. Unrepaired ACL tears can lead to further knee injury down the road.
  • To help prevent ACL tears, strengthen the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles around the knees. This can reduce stress on the knee joint and allow it to better absorb shock.

How can I get help for an ACL tear?

See your doctor or a primary care sports medicine specialist if any of the following occur:

  • You hear or feel a “pop” in your knee 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.

Care for ACL tears at Rush

If you have an ACL tear, you may need to use crutches to walk until the swelling and pain go away. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to improve joint motion and leg strength.

If you and your doctor decide surgery is the best option for you, you will be referred to an orthopedic surgeon at Rush for one of the following procedures:

  • ACL reconstruction: 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 ligament.
  • ACL repair: This is used when the ligament and a piece of the bone separate from the rest of the bone. In this procedure, surgeons reattach the bone fragment to the bone.

As much as possible, orthopedic surgeons at Rush prefer to use 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.

Why choose Rush for ACL care

  • The orthopedics program at Rush is consistently ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
  • As team doctors for the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox and other professional, college and high school teams, orthopedic surgeons at Rush treat ACL injuries in many athletes and work with athletes to rehabilitate and prevent knee injuries.
  • Sports medicine surgeons at Rush were among the first in Chicago to perform arthroscopic ACL surgery, and they have among the most experience in the Chicago area with this procedure.
  • The Orthopedic Building gives patients one convenient place to go for ACL care. You can see an orthopedic specialist, get your imaging tests, have outpatient procedures and go through rehabilitation — all under one roof.

Departments and programs that treat this condition