Health Team

Torn ACL is common sports injury

Posted July 10, 2008 5:33 p.m. EDT

— A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) has sidelined many amateur and professional athletes, including golf superstar Tiger Woods.

The knee contains four ligaments that connect the thighbone to the shinbone, according to the Mayo Clinic. These ligaments hold the knee bones in proper alignment in addition to controlling the way the knee moves.

The ACL runs from the back of the thighbone all the way to the shin bone, giving the knee forward stability. It also controls movement of the lower leg bone and limits its side-to-side rotation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

ACL injuries typically occur with a twisting or pivoting motion or a direct blow to the knee. A lot of these injuries occur during high impact sports like football, soccer, tennis or running at a high speed. Sometimes landing awkwardly from a jump can cause an ACL injury, according to the Mayo Clinic.

During an ACL tear the athlete may feel or hear a pop in the knee. Significant pain in the knee and immediate swelling are also common. Putting weight or standing on the injured knee may cause it to give way of feel unstable.

Doctors diagnose a torn ACL through a knee examination. If a doctor is unable to examine the knee adequately imaging studies may be used. ACL tears will not show up on X-rays, but in some cases MRI may be used.

Depending on the extent of the injury and lifestyle of the patient, doctors and patients may choose nonsurgical rehabilitation. Surgery is also an option. If there is damaged to the meniscus, the cartilage in the knee at the top of the shinbone, the doctor may also recommend reconstructive surgery.

Most athletes can return to the field in about 6 months depending on their rehabilitation. For some people with weaker leg muscles, recovery could take longer.

People with ACL injuries have a higher risk for developing osteoarthritis.