Between 100,000-200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries happen every year in the United States, making them one of the most common knee injuries. While ACL sprains and tears are most commonly associated with athletes, these injuries can happen in non-athletes, too.
Fortunately, while some severe ACL injuries require surgery and grafts to repair or replace damaged ligaments, many people with ACL injuries can be treated nonsurgically. As a top-ranked orthopedic surgeon in Houston and Sugar Land, Texas, J. Michael Bennett, MD, PA, is skilled in surgical and nonsurgical ACL treatments, so you can feel confident he’ll recommend the best approach to get you back on your feet.
ACL injuries: The basics
The ACL is one of four major knee ligaments, tough, fibrous tissue bands that hold the joint together, provide joint stability, and support normal knee movement and function. The ACL crosses the knee joint at its center, supporting rotation of the knee and keeping the bones of the joint aligned.
Most ACL injuries are associated with sports that involve rapid changes in direction (pivoting), sudden stops, high impact to the knee (like jumping), or landing incorrectly. Some injuries can be caused by falls or auto accidents.
ACL injuries happen when the ligament is stretched beyond its normal capacity or torn, either partially or completely. The ACL has a limited blood supply, and healing can be complex. Surgery is necessary for most complete tears and other severe injuries, but there are times when nonsurgical treatment is a good choice.
Nonsurgical treatment options for ACL injuries
Nonsurgical treatment can be an ideal option for patients who:
- Are older
- Lead less active lifestyles
- Aren’t involved in high-impact activities
- Don’t have signs of knee instability or “buckling”
Nonsurgical treatment focuses on RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Rest and activity modification
One of the best ways to promote healing in your knee is to reduce the amount of stress and strain you place on the joint. Ideally, you want to avoid putting weight on your knee or using it for bending or rotating activities. Dr. Bennett may recommend using a brace, crutches, or other assistive device to help you get around while still protecting the joint.
Applying ice to your knee helps reduce swelling and inflammation inside the joint. While inflammation is part of your body’s natural healing process, too much inflammation can hinder healing and increase pain, as well. Dr. Bennett provides detailed instructions on how often ice should be applied so you maximize your benefits.
Most people think compression is used after an injury to help stabilize a joint, and that’s true: Using a compression garment can help keep your joint components “in line,” preventing strain and “drifting” that can cause pain and improper healing. But compression also helps reduce swelling in the joint, promoting healing responses to help the joint recover more quickly.
Elevation is another way to decrease swelling in your knee, enhancing healing and reducing discomfort. The key is to elevate your knee at or above your chest level to prevent fluid accumulation in and around the joint.
Many patients also benefit from physical therapy to improve joint stability and improve circulation, a key contributor to healing and recovery. And of course, Dr. Bennett may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines to relieve swelling and discomfort.
Keeping knee pain at bay
Knee pain is a major medical complaint for both men and women, and unfortunately, it becomes even more common as we age. Seeking medical treatment at the first sign of an ACL problem or any knee injury is the best way to protect your knee and relieve those symptoms.
To learn more about the nonsurgical management of ACL injuries and other knee problems, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Bennett today.