A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bone to bone. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is located inside your knee joint and connects the bones of your upper and lower leg.
An ACL injury occurs when the ligament is stretched or torn. A partial ACL tear occurs when only part of the ligament is torn. A complete ACL tear occurs when the entire ligament is torn into two pieces.
The ACL is one of several ligaments that help keep your knee stable. It helps keep your leg bones in place and allows your knee to move back and forth.
An ACL injury can occur if you:
Skiers and people who play basketball, football, or soccer are more likely to have this type of injury. Women are more likely to tear their ALC than men.
It's common to hear a "popping" sound when an ACL injury occurs. You also may have:
If you have a mild injury, you may notice that your knee feels unstable or seems to "give way" when using it. ACL injuries often occur along with other knee injuries, such as to the meniscus and cartilage. These injuries may need to be treated with surgery.
After examining your knee, your doctor may order
If you have an ACL injury, you may need:
Some people can live and function normally with a torn ACL. However, most people feel like their knee is unstable and may "give out" with activity. Unrepaired ACL tears can lead to further knee damage.
Follow R.I.C.E. to help reduce pain and swelling:
You can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps with pain, but not with swelling. You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
Talk with your doctor before using pain medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past. Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your doctor.
After your injury, you should not play sports or other activities until you and your doctor decide what treatment is best for you.
If you have surgery to repair your ACL:
If you do not have surgery:
Call your doctor if you have an increase in swelling or pain or self-care doesn't seem to help.
Cruciate ligament injury - aftercare; ACL injury - aftercare
Amy E, Micheo W. Anterior cruciate ligament tear. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 55.
Honkamp NJ, Shen W, Okeke N, Ferretti M, Fu F. Knee. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller M, eds. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 23.
Miller III RH, Azar, FM. Knee injuires. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, Daugherty K, Jones L, et al. Canale & Beaty: Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier, 2013:chap 45.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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