ACL Tears: Diagnosis & Treatment

Your knee is made up of four main ligaments that connect your femur to your tibia bone, including: lateral collateral, medial collateral, posterior cruciate and the anterior cruciate. The anterior cruciate ligament, also known as the ACL, is what allows your knee to rotate and operate correctly, running diagonally at the front of the joint and keeping the bones in place. Its placement makes the ACL vulnerable to injuries. A torn ACL is one of the most common injuries in sports that are running intensive or require usage of your knees, such as football, basketball and skiing.

Symptoms of a Torn ACL


When your ACL is torn, you may feel or even hear a pop in your knee, along with instant unsteadiness. You may not be able to resume your current activity, whether you are in the middle of a game or simply stretched your knee out incorrectly. The area will quickly become inflamed, causing severe pain. You may experience difficulty walking as your knee will not be able to hold your weight. Visiting a doctor will be able to provide you with a thorough diagnosis.

Diagnosing a Torn ACL


Your physician will perform a physical exam focusing on your knee, comparing swelling between the two as well as mobility and function. While most cases of a torn ACL can be diagnosed through the examination, your doctor may want to run additional tests to determine the degree of the tear, as well as ruling out other injuries before beginning treatment. Depending on the scope of the injury, your doctor may order one or several imaging tests:

  • X-Rays: This will rule out fractures in the bone surrounding the ACL. However, an X-Ray will not be able to provide visualization of surrounding tissue or ligaments, requiring additional tests to be ordered.
  • Diagnostic Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show structures within, including muscles and ligaments. This test is often performed in conjunction with an MRI for more detailed imaging.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI uses radio waves to provide visualization of both hard and soft tissues within the body. It can provide the clearest images of smaller injuries affecting tendons, ligaments and cartilage, making it ideal for a torn ACL diagnosis.

Treating a Torn ACL

After following the RICE protocol immediately after injury, your doctor will recommend a course of physical therapy. Your physical therapist will prescribe exercises to help regain motion in your knee, as well as reducing swelling. You may also need to wear a brace for stabilization, providing you the support needed to walk. Crutches may be used immediately after to avoid putting weight on the injured leg. If you are intent on continuing to pursue athletics or your knee cannot handle everyday activities, your physician may recommend surgical reconstruction and additional physical therapy to restore function and stability. While there is no set time frame on returning to the game, most athletes may be cleared to play one year after the initial accident.

Torn ACL Treatment & Diagnosis in North Andover & Haverhill, MA

If you have torn your ACL or another ligament and are looking for specialized treatment for the area, contact Associates in Orthopedics today. Our staff consists of board-certified surgeons with different specialties across the orthopedic field, including the knee and torn ligaments. Associates in Orthopedics can be reached by calling T-978.373.3851.