The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four major ligaments that are a part of the knee joint, and is considered the central stabilizing ligament of the knee. Running through the knee from the front of the tibia (shin bone) to the back of the femur (thigh bone), the ACL assists proper movement of the joint and prevents abnormal slippage of the bones. This abnormal slippage can create an unstable knee that “gives way” during activity.
ACL knee injuries are very common among athletes. ACL tears, ruptures, and other forms of damage often occur as a result of a direct hit or blow to the knee; however, in the case of an ACL injury, it is actually more common to tear the ligament through pivoting and twisting movements. When this occurs, the tibia (leg bone) subluxates (slides out forward) from under the femur (or thigh bone), which ultimately stretches, pops, or tears the ligament. An ACL knee injury can affect anyone, at any age, and most often occurs due to sports trauma, and/or everyday falls and mishaps. An ACL tear, if not repaired, may result in degenerative changes within the knee joint.
With regard to athletics, individuals that participate in sports such as skiing, soccer, basketball, football, tennis, volleyball, and gymnastics tend to be at the highest risk. More females will present with an injury involving the ACL than will males. In addition, approximately half of all ACL injuries will occur in combination with another injury such as damage to the meniscus, articular cartilage, or another ligament.
During your consultation with Dr. Lubowitz, a physical examination will occur to assess the symptoms, and a set of X-rays will be required to make sure that there are no broken bones, arthritis, or other problems in the knee. An MRI is also to confirm the diagnosis, and to determine if additional damage to the other structures of the knee has occurred.
In many cases, the ACL will not be able to heal on its own; however, not all ACL injuries need to be fixed with surgery. Many factors will effect this decision including age, activity level, and fitness goals. Advances in arthroscopic surgery and an aggressive rehabilitation program contribute to an accelerated recovery for patients with ACL injuries and surgery.
Please refer to the ACL resources on this site to learn more about ACL knee injuries.
James H. Lubowitz, MD, specializes exclusively in knee arthroscopic and related surgery including meniscus, cartilage, sports medicine, and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), as well as PCL, MCL, patella dislocation, and knee dislocation injuries. The New Mexico Knee Clinic is located in Santa Fe (less than one hour from Albuquerque airport), with additional locations in Taos and Los Alamos.