Is Surgery Necessary For An ACL Tear? Treatment For Knee Injuries

Treating A Torn ACL

Especially among athletes, a common knee injury is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. The function of the ACL is to prevent too much forward movement. An abrupt movement can cause a knee injury resulting in a tear or sprain, and may require surgery in some cases.

Pop goes the ligament

The moment a person makes a sudden movement, a loud knee pop may be heard. Swelling of the knee can happen within the first few hours, and knee stability may be immediately impacted as well. A patient can have difficulty bearing weight on the leg and performing various movements. The severity of the symptoms depends on the level of an ACL tear.

Grading an ACL tear

People who suspect an ACL tear should immediately consult the doctor for assessment and grading of the knee injury. A mild injury with preserved knee stability is referred to as a grade 1 tear. A partial tear of the ligament is a grade 2 ACL tear, and a complete tear of the ACL ligament with no knee stability is a grade 3 tear.

Rest, ice, and elevation

The treatment of this type of knee injury is based on the grading given by the doctor. Grade 1 and 2 ACL tears are usually treated with conservative treatments. These treatments include the RICE protocol, physical therapy (PT), and a knee brace. The RICE protocol stands for resting the knee, ice application, applying compression on the knee, and keeping the affected knee elevated.

Is surgery necessary?

In some severe cases, such as a grade 3 tear, the healthcare provider may advise surgery. This approach is typically recommended when ACL tears are complete with no knee stability. ACL reconstruction surgery is performed where the torn ACL is replaced with a tendon graft.

Post-surgery treatment

After the operation of the ACL, the patient will be transferred to the recovery room for observation. After the operation, patients will be given pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to lessen pain. Rehabilitation or PT will be recommended to the patient for better outcomes. The surgical site is monitored for at least 2 weeks to keep the area sterile. In some cases, the doctor may require the patient to use a post-operative brace or crutches.

The importance of rehabilitation

Physical therapy is important for patients to achieve better recovery of the knee. Rehabilitation improves the knee’s range of motion (ROM) and strengthens the muscles. Eventually, pain is reduced, and knee stability is maintained more long-term after performing physical therapy.

Back to normal

Treating ACL tears conservatively has a good prognosis. If the knee is unstable, close observation is needed. Knee injuries managed with surgery take longer to recuperate from but may be necessary for more severe tears. Consult with the doctor about treatment options and the risks, benefits, and prognosis.


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