Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are an unfortunate reality for athletes of all levels in the United States. Some studies estimate annual ACL tears at between 100,000-200,000, mostly among athletes who do a lot of sprinting, pivoting, or jumping.
With practices in Sugar Land and Houston, Texas, J. Michael Bennett, MD, uses the most advanced treatment options for athletes with ACL tears, including minimally-invasive arthroscopic options for faster recovery. If you’re not sure how ACL tears occur or how to prevent them, here’s what you should know.
The role of the ACL
Your ACL is one of four major ligaments that help your knee stay stable and functional. All four ligaments connect your thigh bone to the lower leg bones.
The ACL and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) are located in the center of the knee joint, joining the thigh bone to the tibia bone. The anterior cruciate ligament is attached near the front of your thigh bone, while the posterior cruciate ligament is attached near the back part of the bone. These two ligaments cross (“cruciate” literally means cross-shaped) in the middle of the knee.
Together, your ACL and PCL promote normal bending and straightening of your knee, providing it with stability that helps the joint function normally during all sorts of activities. The other two ligaments, the medial collateral ligament, and the lateral collateral ligament, are located on the knees’ sides, providing additional stability.
Why ACL tears occur
ACL tears are one of the most common types of knee injuries, especially for athletes. That’s because many sports require quick start-stop actions, pivoting movements, and high-impact motions that put a lot of strain on that specific ligament. Less often, the ligament can be torn from a fall or other impact. ACL injuries are especially common among athletes who play baseball, football, basketball, and soccer.
An ACL tear can be partial or complete, depending on whether the tear completely severs the ligament. If a ligament is stretched and not torn, it’s referred to as a sprain. While you may not be able to avoid an ACL entirely, you can help prevent them with:
- Targeted strength training to support your knee joint
- Multifaceted workouts for overall strength and conditioning
- Proper warmup before play
- Balance and agility exercises
- Proper footwear designed for your sport
The risk of ACL tears becomes more common with age and repetitive use. Working with a sports medicine specialist may help prevent injuries by making sure your knees stay healthy.
Treating ACL tears
A torn ACL can’t heal on its own. For older patients or patients who intend to lead a relatively inactive lifestyle, nonsurgical options, like bracing and physical therapy might be recommended instead of surgery. But for active athletes, rebuilding the ligament is the better option.
To rebuild your ACL, Dr. Bennett uses a graft — usually a tendon taken from another part of your leg. The graft is attached to your knee bones, and the damaged ACL is removed entirely. After surgery, you’ll have therapy to restore motion, strength, and flexibility in the joint.
Stay off the sidelines
You might not be able to avoid every sports injury, but working closely with a sports doctor can help you stay healthy and enjoy your sport more. As a top-ranked sports medicine specialist in the greater Houston area, Dr. Bennett can customize a wellness program just for you. To learn more about the sports medicine options he offers, call the practice or use the online form to schedule an appointment today.