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Anterior cruciate ligament injury

Anterior cruciate ligament injury
Classification & external resources
Diagram of the right knee
ICD-10 S83.5
ICD-9 844.2
eMedicine pmr/3 

Non-contact tears or ruptures are the most common cause of injury to the anterior cruciate ligament. They often occur when athletes decelerate rapidly, followed by a sharp or sudden change in direction (cutting). In jump sports, ACL failure has been linked to heavy or stiff landing as well as twisting or turning the knee while landing, especially when the knee is in the "valgus" ("knock-knee") position. Studies indicate that women in jumping and cutting sports such as football, basketball, or volleyball, are significantly more prone to ACL injuries than men; this is generally believed to be due to differences between the sexes in knee joint anatomy such as the intercondylar notch and/or ligament size and strength, ligament laxity, general muscular strength, reaction time of muscle contraction and coordination, and possibly training techniques (a new study suggests hormone-induced changes in muscle tension associated with menstrual cycles may be an important factor [1]). Others have shown that high risk knee loads large enough to injure the ACL stem primarily from the hip [2]. Female athletes are being taught safer jumping and landing techniques to better protect them from cruciate injury [3].

Damage to the ACL also occurs with lateral blows to the knee (as happens with a tackle from the side in American football or rugby) and often is accompanied by injuries to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the medial meniscus, which is attached to the MCL; physicians are taught "...knee injuries come in threes - anterior cruciate, medial collateral, medial meniscus." Clinical studies, however, have noted that a lateral meniscal tear occurs more commonly than the classic "terrible triad" noted previously. . A damaged ACL can be confirmed (clinically) by a physician with the anterior drawer test, the Lachman test, or an MRI.

It is one of the most common serious injuries in Association Football and Australian rules football. ACL injuries are also common in alpine skiing, partially because of improvements in boots. Today's boots have been successful in preventing many of the ankle and leg fractures once caused by accidents; however, the tradeoff has been that the stresses have been transferred to the knees, resulting in many ACL tears.

Symptoms of an ACL injury include the hearing of a sudden popping sound at the time of the injury, swelling, and instability of the knee (i.e., a "wobbly" feeling or a feeling that the knee is not solid). Continued athletic activity on a knee with an ACL injury can have devastating consequences, resulting in massive cartilage damage, which is likely to lead to osteoarthritis later in life.

An ACL injury can often be debilitating for far longer than a broken leg, often taking professional sportsmen one year or more to fully recover physically.



A completely torn ACL has the slight potential of regrowth.[citation needed] The ACL primarily serves to stabilize the knee in an extended position and when surrounding muscles are relaxed, so if the muscles are strong, many people can function without it. The term for non-surgical treatment for ACL rupture is "conservative management", and it often includes physical therapy and use of a knee brace. Lack of an ACL generally increases the risk of other knee injuries such as torn meniscus, so sports with cutting and twisting motions are strongly discouraged. For patients who frequently participate in such sports, surgery is often indicated.

ACL surgery

There are two main options for ACL graft selection (see ACL reconstruction), allograft and autograft. Autografts are the patients' own tissues, and options include the hamstring tendons or middle third of the patella tendon. Allograft is cadaveric tissue sourced from a tissue bank. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages; hamstring and middle third of patella tendon having similar outcomes. Patellar grafts are often incorrectly cited as being stronger, but the site of the harvest is often extremely painful for weeks after surgery and some patients develop chronic patellar tendinitis. Replacement via a posthumous donor involves a slightly higher risk of infection. Additionally, donor grafts eliminate tendon harvesting which, due to improved arthroscopic methods, is responsible for most post-operative pain.

The surgery is typically undertaken arthroscopically, with tunnels drilled into the femur and tibia at approximately the original ACL attachments. The graft is then placed into position and held in place. There are a variety of fixation devices available, particularly for hamstring tendon fixation. These include screws, buttons and post fixation devices. The graft typically attaches to the bone within six to eight weeks[citation needed]. The original collagen tissue in the graft acts as a scaffold and new collagen tissue is laid down in the graft with time. Hence the graft takes over six months to reach maximal strength.[citation needed]

After surgery, the knee joint loses flexibility, and the muscles around the knee and in the thigh tend to atrophy. All treatment options require extensive physical therapy to regain muscle strength around the knee and restore range of motion (ROM). For some patients, the lengthy rehabilitation period may be more difficult to deal with than the actual surgery. In general, a rehabilitation period of six months to a year is required to regain pre-surgery strength and use.[citation needed] This is very dependent on the rehabilitation assignment provided by the surgeon as well as the person who is receiving the surgery. External bracing is recommended for athletes in contact and collision sports for a period of time after reconstruction. It is important however to realize that this type of prevention is given by a 'surgeon to surgeon' basis; not all surgeons will prescribe a brace for post surgery recovery. Whether the ACL deficient knee is reconstructed or not, the patient is susceptible to early onset of chronic degenerative joint disease.

See also

Additional images


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  • Vermont Safety Research - Tips for knee friendly skiing
  • ACL Injury in Martial Arts
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Anterior_cruciate_ligament_injury". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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