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Published on: 29-Apr-2022

It all starts with a loud pop.

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, connects your shinbone to your thighbone and passes directly through the center of the knee. When this ligament is partially torn or completely severed, the person experiences a wide range of symptoms—from pain and swelling to limited mobility and instability. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Torn ACL?

Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, symptoms can be as mild as slight swelling and discomfort or as severe as excruciating pain and an inability to walk.

When neglected, they can lead to repeated giving way and possibly, additional damage to the cartilage.

For physically active adults, a torn ACL can be devastating. Recovering from this injury requires patience, rest, and—unfortunately— some downtime. This article will explore proven strategies for recovering from a torn ACL surgery and getting back on track with your exercise as soon as it is safe.

But first, let’s get a clearer picture of an ACL injury.

What Can Cause a Torn ACL?

People are most likely to tear their ACL when engaging in sports or other physical activities—like running, jumping, torquing the body, etc. There is a range in the severity of ACL injuries. For example, the ligament might remain intact but is stretched and strained. This is a mild ACL injury. Partial and complete tears account for moderate to severe ACL injuries.

What Are the Symptoms of a Torn ACL?

Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, symptoms can be as mild as slight swelling and discomfort or as severe as excruciating pain and an inability to walk. 

Common Torn ACL symptoms include:

  • Pain, Redness, and Swelling in the Knee
  • A Loud Popping Noise When the Injury Occurred
  • Instability
  • Difficulty Walking, Running, and Bending the Knee 

What is the Difference Between A Complete and Partial Tear?

There are different grades of ACL sprains that account for the severity of the injury.

ACL Sprain Grade 1

The ACL ligament is stretched and bruised, but there are no tears. This grade of ACL injury usually doesn’t require surgery, and the knee is usually still stable. 

People with grade 1 ACL sprains can still walk and perform light physical activities—like physical therapy.

ACL Sprain Grade 2:

The ACL ligament is partially torn and at risk of becoming completely torn. This grade might require surgery, especially if the person wants to get back to physical activity quickly. 

Partial tears can heal on their own, but this process takes time. Whether or not surgery is recommended often depends on the person’s knee stability. If they are stable and can walk with a partial tear, their doctor may recommend non-surgical recovery methods. 

ACL Sprain Grade 3:

The ACL ligament is completely severed, and the knee is unstable. This grade is the most painful and limiting ACL injury and will require surgery in most cases.

What’s the Average Recovery Timeline For a Torn ACL?

First things first: no matter how mild you think your injury is, you must see a doctor. If you feel your injury is mild and do not take the proper precautions to heal, your grade 1 or 2 ACL injury can quickly become a grade 2 or 3.

Factors Affecting Recovery Time

Each person’s ability to heal is dependent on several factors. A young person who tears their ACL might need less downtime than an older person who suffers an ACL injury. Depending on the patient’s independence and overall health, the family may wish to provide home care to help an older person recover from a torn ACL.

Another factor that will affect a person’s recovery time is how active they want to be after the injury.

A person needs reconstructive ACL surgery to completely recover strength, stability, and mobility. If they are physically active or need extensive use of their knees for work, then surgery is a must. However, if their lives are predominantly sedentary, they don’t necessarily need surgery to return to normal.

Average Recovery Timeline

Generally, doctors separate the average recovery timeline for a torn ACL into three phases.

ACL Recovery Phase One

This phase begins directly after the ACL injury or reconstructive surgery and lasts for about two weeks. This phase aims to reduce swelling in the knee and surrounding tissues, get comfortable bearing weight on the knee and strengthen the muscles that support the knee.

During this phase, physical therapy begins. 

ACL Recovery Phase Two

Phase two begins around two weeks after the injury or surgery and lasts for about a month, bringing the total time up to six weeks. 

During phase two, the exercise and strengthening grow more intense as the knee begins to heal. 

ACL Recovery Phase Three

This is the final phase of ACL injury recovery and lasts anywhere from three to six months after the injury or surgery. During this phase, resistance training is introduced, and exercise intensifies.

If ACL injury symptoms return, it is recommended that patients rest and pull back on the intensity of physical therapy and exercise. 

Achieving a Full Recovery

The downtime can be frustrating, but keep the long-term goal in mind. By following your doctor’s suggestions, you ensure your knee’s long-term health and stability. You risk making the injury worse and compromising your future mobility and stability by rushing the healing process. 


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The post Advice for Recovering from a Torn ACL appeared first on Sports Medicine Weekly.