Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear (ACL Tear)

An anterior cruciate ligament tear is one of the most common knee injuries people suffer from. Athletes participating in high demand sports such as soccer, football, and basketball are especially susceptible to these tears.


The three bones that form your knee joint are connected to each other by four ligaments. They act as strong ropes holding the bones together and keeping your knees stable. There are two cruciate ligaments, anterior and posterior, found inside your knee joint. They cross over each other to form an “X” and control the back and forth movement of the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament serves the purpose of preventing the tibia from sliding in front of the femur and provides rotational stability to the knee.

ACL Tear Causes

ACL tears most often occur during sports or fitness activities that place a lot of stress on the knee. The specific movements that often cause a tear are:

  • Sudden slowing down and changing direction
  • Pivoting with your foot planted firmly
  • Landing from a jump awkwardly
  • Sudden stops
  • A direct blow to the knee or a collision

There are also certain risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of sustaining an ACL tear. For example, female athletes have been shown to have a higher incidence of ACL tears than male athletes. Other risk factors include:

  • Poor conditioning
  • Using improper form during movement, like moving the knees inward during a squat
  • Wearing footwear that doesn’t fit correctly
  • Using sports equipment that is not maintained or fitted correctly, like ski bindings that are not adjusted properly

ACL Tear Symptoms

A tell-tale sign for most when they experience an ACL tear is a loud pop or a popping sensation in the knee. This is generally followed by severe pain and an inability to continue with the activity. There may also be rapid swelling of the knee and a loss of range of motion. Finally, a patient will also likely feel instability or even a giving way when attempting to bear weight on the leg.

ACL Tear Treatment

RICE Model

Promptly following the RICE model of care after the injury can reduce pain and swelling in the knee. Rest the knee and limit any weight bearing activities. Ice the knee at least every two hours for 20 minute intervals while you’re awake. Wrap a bandage of compression wrap around the knee. Finally, lie with your knee propped up on pillows.


Often, the treatment for an ACL tear begins with several weeks of physical therapy. A certified physical therapist can teach you exercises that will be performed both during appointments and at home. The goal of rehabilitation is to reduce pain and swelling, restore your knee’s full range of motion, and strengthen the muscles of the knee. Rehabilitation might be all that is needed to treat an ACL tear for people who are somewhat inactive, engage in moderate exercise, or play sports that put less stress on the knees.


Surgery is generally recommended for patients who are athletes that want to continue in their sport, injuries where more than one ligament in the knee is injured, or the injury causes the knee to buckle during everyday activities. During an ACL reconstruction surgery, the damaged ligament is replaced with a segment of tendon. A successful surgery combined with a rehabilitation plan can usually restore the stability and function of the knee. Unfortunately. There is no set time frame that athletes can expect to return to play. Many times, it will take up to a year or more before they can safely return to play.

ACL Tears at OAR

Prompt, expert care is vital to achieving the best outcome of ACL tears. If you believe you have sustained an ACL tear in your knee, contact the team at Orthopaedic Associates of Riverside. We will provide you with expert diagnosis and treatment options, so that you can get back to the activities that you love.

Contact us today!