Had a scan and found out you have damaged your ACL? Or perhaps you were doing physical activity and something in your knee doesn’t feel quite right! The ACL is a ligament that plays an important role in the stability of your knee – your physiotherapist can assess, diagnose and rehabilitate ACL injuries! Read on to find out more:
What is an ACL Injury?
ACL injuries most commonly occur during sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, jumping and landing — such as soccer, basketball or netball. The ACL connects your thighbone (femur) to your shinbone (tibia) and prevents the shinbone from sliding forwards.
Like all ligament injuries the severity of injury can vary;
- Grade 1 sprain in only minor stretching to the ligament and your knee is still fairly stable.
- Grade 2 is a partial ACL tear, with the ligament stretched so much that it is loose and damaged. These are relatively rare.
- Grade 3 is a complete tear of the ACL, with the knee joint becoming unstable and often requires surgery to fix.
Signs and Symptoms
- A loud “pop” or a “popping” sensation in the knee
- Severe pain and inability to continue activity
- Rapid swelling
- Loss of range of motion
- A feeling of instability or “giving way” with weight bearing
How your Physiotherapist can help you?
If you think you have hurt your knee you should seek the advice of your physiotherapist immediately so that a proper assessment can be completed. This assessment will determine the structure involved and the severity of injury (as per the grading system above).
If it is determined that your ACL has a grade 1 or 2 injury, Physiotherapy will focus firstly on reducing pain and swelling. Once this is under control your physio will use manual therapy and exercise prescription to return your knee to full function and your activity goals.
If a grade 3 ACL tear is present – it is likely that you will see a surgeon and have an ACL Reconstruction where the torn ACL is reattached using a graft of tendon from another section of your leg (usually hamstrings or patella tendon).
After your operation – physiotherapy is essential in returning you to previous levels of function and there are strict post-operation guidelines to follow. These guidelines follow these stages:
- Prehabilitation before surgery – strengthening the knee prior to surgery
- Acute Recovery – Management of pain and swelling using manual therapy and sometimes a knee brace immediately post operation.
- Muscular Control and Coordination – you physiotherapist will guide you through strengthening exercises for the knee in a progressive manner to ensure no further injury to the new graft.
- Proprioception and Agility – Once the desired strength and stability is achieved, your physiotherapist will train you in higher level balance and agility exercises.
- Sports Specific Skills – Your physiotherapist will re-introduce you to the skills required for your sport.
- Return to Play
It is essential that this protocol is followed correctly as the knee is very weak after an ACL reconstruction and the risk of injuring the ligament again is high for the first 10 weeks after surgery. Your physiotherapist will guide you appropriately through these stages outlined above.
Do’s and Don’ts
DO: Seek the advice of your physiotherapist if you think you have injured your knee – we are here to help and answer any questions you may have!
DON’T: Ignore the problem – you could risk causing further damage to your knee if you do not seek medical advice.