How to Determine If You Have a Torn ACL

If you watch or play sports, chances are good that you’ve heard of a torn ACL. This knee injury can affect the joint’s mobility and stability, but with proper treatment, its normal function can be restored.

What is an ACL?

An ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) functions like a strong rope and runs diagonally across the middle of your knee. It keeps the tibia (shinbone) from sliding out in front of the femur (thighbone) and provides rotational stability to your knee.

The ACL is one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee, and when it’s damaged, other parts of the knee also suffer an injury nearly half the time.

How Does It Tear?

An ACL tear most often occurs as a result of a non-contact sports injury. Many sports – including basketball, football, soccer, tennis and downhill skiing – frequently involve the sort of movements that can cause an ACL tear. These include sudden stops, jumping, pivoting and sidestepping.

In addition to non-contact injuries, an ACL tear can be caused by direct contact or a collision, such as a football tackle.

The damage can be a partial tear or a complete tear to the ligament.

What Are the Symptoms of an ACL Tear?

The following are some of the most common symptoms associated with an ACL tear:

  • A loud popping sensation in your knee
  • Pain and swelling within 24 hours of the injury
  • Loss of full range of motion
  • Discomfort while walking
  • Knee instability – it “gives out” from under you

What Are Your Treatment Options When You Have a Torn ACL?

A doctor can diagnose a torn ACL ­– often with the help of a scan such as an X-ray, MRI or ultrasound – and recommend a treatment plan. His or her recommendation will take into consideration the severity of the damage as well as your age and your activity level. For older people or those who are relatively inactive, non-surgical treatments may be used. But for many people, surgery to reconstruct the ACL is recommended, particularly if the tear is complete rather than partial.

The following are some common treatment options for a torn ACL:


Wearing a knee brace can help stabilize and protect the joint. You may also use crutches so you don’t put weight on your leg.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can lead you through exercises to help restore function to your knee and also strengthen its supporting leg muscles Physical therapy may be recommended with or without surgery


Most ACL tears can’t simply be stitched back together. Your doctor will need to reconstruct the torn ligament using a tissue graft. The graft material will be taken from other tendons in your body or from a deceased donor. New ligament tissue will then grow on the graft.

This type of surgery can be performed arthroscopically, which is a minimally invasive option that results in less pain, less hospital time and quicker recovery times.

If you think you may have a torn ACL, make an appointment today with Dr. Burrus, who has offices in Austin TX and its surrounding areas. He specializes in arthroscopic surgery and also offers physical therapy. The knee is a complicated joint that’s made up of many parts and receiving an examination as soon as possible can help you get the proper treatment to help you return to your lifestyle faster.