Anterior cruciate ligament or ACL injuries are common among athletes. However, such injuries can happen to anyone regardless of their levels of physical activity and fitness. The good news is that with proper treatment and postoperative physical rehabilitation, the majority of these injuries can be mitigated or even reversed. 

If you want to know more about the ACL, then keep reading! In this article, Jeff Sandy, Clinical Director at Healthworks Rehab & Fitness‘ Buckhannon location, answers some common questions regarding ACL injuries and explains different measures you can take to prevent an ACL injury.

What is the ACL?

The ACL is one of the four primary stabilizing ligaments found in the knee. It supports and stabilizes the knee as we walk, bend, run, jump, or move.  The purpose of ACL is to prevent the bottom bone of the leg from moving forward compared to the upper bone (femur). If we lose this ability, the knee becomes unstable and tends to buckle.   

What is ACL Injury or Tear? 

ACL injuries are generally diagnosed through clinical examination and MRI. They are classified based on the amount of damage to the ligament. A tear or injury generally occurs when we change direction quickly and land on our feet (or “cutting” in sports-terminology), or due to a direct hit to the knee. 

You can think of an ACL tear as a type of ligament sprain. There are three main types of ligament sprains. 

  • Grade 1 Sprains involve micro-tearing and stretching of the ligament. However, the joint stays intact, and the sprain recovers on its own.
  • Grade 2 Sprains involve partial disruption as some of the fibers tear. These ligament tears take longer to heal and may need physical therapy to fully recover. 
  • Grade 3 Sprains are characterized as an ACL injury. The ligament completely comes apart or ruptures, leaving the joint unstable. Surgery is often recommended to treat ACL injuries in young and athletic people.  Older or more sedentary people sometime choose not to have ACL reconstructive surgery, but this is a personal choice to be made with a physician’s recommendation.

Different options are available for ACL reconstruction. The major decision involves choosing the type of graft: a surgeon may perform an Autograft Surgery (using tissue from a different part of the patient’s own body) or an Allograft Surgery (using tissue from a donor body) depending on the health, physical fitness level, and goals of the patient. 

How to Prevent an ACL Injury? 

There are certain measures that you can take to prevent an ACL injury and reduce the risk of re-injury to the knee. The best part is that you can easily perform these preventive measures at home.  

  • At Home-Exercises

You can practice glute strengthening exercises such as bridges, straight leg raises, etc., to build up hip muscles. Also, focus on strengthening the Quad muscle to help support the knee. Regularly practicing mini-squats at home can significantly help prevent an ACL injury. It is recommended to always keep your physical activity level and fitness in mind before starting a new exercise.   

  • Balance Training 

Improving balance and strengthening muscles of the knees, legs, ankles, and feet can help avoid unnatural twisting of the knee and prevent an ACL injury. Try standing on one leg with your eyes closed to practice balance. You can also place a pillow on the ground and stand on it to practice standing on uneven surfaces.   

How Can A Physical Therapist Help?

Once an ACL injury is diagnosed, your physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon will work together to decide if you require surgery. If the injury has the potential to heal without surgery, you will work with a physical therapist who will design a physical therapy treatment program for you. 

On the other hand, if surgery is required, the physical therapist can help you prepare for it through “prehab” that helps restore normal range of motion. When we restore the normal range of motion before the surgery through prehab, it becomes a lot easier to gain it afterward.  After surgery, you should expect to work with your physical therapist for several weeks to regain your strength, flexibility, and stability. 

What Enhancements Are Offered At Healthworks Rehab & Fitness for ACL Injuries? 

Healthworks Rehab & Fitness has an extensive range of options available to treat ACL surgeries. Your therapist will work with you to create an individualized recovery plan. This may include Astym or other manual soft tissue techniques to decrease pain and swelling and improve mobility and recovery.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with knee pain or experiencing instability in the knee, contact your nearest HealthWorks Rehab & Fitness center to start your wellness journey today!