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ACL Tear Treatment Options

What are ACL tears?

ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tears are common knee injuries, particularly prevalent among athletes engaging in sports involving pivoting, jumping, or sudden changes in direction. These tears often occur due to non-contact mechanisms or direct trauma to the knee, resulting in symptoms such as a popping sensation, swelling, pain, and instability. Diagnosis involves physical examination and imaging studies, with treatment options ranging from non-surgical management, including rest and physical therapy, to surgical reconstruction of the ACL using grafts. Rehabilitation is crucial post-treatment to restore knee function and stability, aiming to facilitate the return to pre-injury activity levels.

What nonoperative options are available?

For individuals with mild or partial ACL tears, especially those who are less physically active or have minimal symptoms, non-surgical management may be considered. This approach typically involves a period of rest, activity modification, and physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve knee stability. Additionally, bracing or the use of a knee sleeve may be recommended to provide support and stability to the injured knee during activities. While non-surgical management may be effective in alleviating symptoms and improving knee function for some individuals, it is important to recognize that it may not fully restore the stability of the knee, particularly for those engaging in high-demand sports or activities.

What is an ACL reconstruction?

ACL reconstruction is performed arthroscopically, using minimally invasive techniques that allow for smaller incisions, reduced postoperative pain, and faster recovery times. The procedure is usually conducted under general anesthesia.

During ACL reconstruction, the torn ACL is removed, and a graft is used to replace the damaged ligament. Common graft options include autografts, harvested from the patient’s own tissues, such as the hamstring tendon, patellar tendon, or quadriceps tendon, or allografts, sourced from donor tissue. The choice of graft depends on factors such as patient age, activity level, and surgeon preference.

Once the graft is harvested and prepared, it is inserted into the knee joint through small incisions and secured in place using screws, buttons, or other fixation devices. Dr. Shane J. Nho carefully positions the graft to replicate the native ACL’s anatomy and function, aiming to restore knee stability and prevent abnormal joint movement.

What does postoperative rehabilitation entail?

Rehabilitation is a crucial component of ACL tear treatment, regardless of whether surgical or non-surgical management is pursued. A structured rehabilitation program, supervised by Dr. Shane J. Nho and a physical therapist, typically begins shortly after injury or surgery and progresses through various stages to gradually restore knee function and mobility. Initially, the focus is on reducing pain and swelling, regaining range of motion, and strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint. As rehabilitation progresses, exercises to improve balance, proprioception, and neuromuscular control are incorporated to enhance joint stability and prevent re-injury. The duration and intensity of rehabilitation vary depending on individual factors, but most patients can expect to engage in several months of dedicated rehabilitation before returning to full activity.

Dr. Shane J. Nho is a board-certified fellowship trained sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in the treatment of ACL tears. If you believe you are affected by an ACL tear, schedule a consultation today with our experienced orthopaedic care team.

At a Glance

Dr. Shane Nho

  • Board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon
  • Team Physician for Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Steel
  • Performs more than 700 procedures each year
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