How to Successfully Manage ACL Tear Pain

How to Successfully Manage ACL Tear Pain

Your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a strong band of tissue that connects your thigh bone to your shin bone at your knee. An ACL tear often occurs when you move suddenly, like a sudden landing, change in direction, or quick stop. 

If you play a sport or engage in recreational activities, like basketball, downhill skiing, or soccer, you’re at increased risk of this painful injury.

At Silicon Valley Orthopaedics in Fremont and Foster City, California, Nic Gay, MDMasi Reynolds, DO, and April Mancuso, MD, commonly treat ACL tears and sprains. In fact, tears happen to an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people per year in the United States. 

Our orthopedic team may recommend rest and physical therapy to help you regain function and reduce pain, but in some cases, surgery is required to repair a torn ligament. Here’s how we recommend managing your pain in the initial stages of the injury and long term. 

How do I know if I’ve torn my ACL?

Of course, a definitive diagnosis from our orthopedic team will tell you that you’ve torn your ACL. You can suspect you have this injury if you experienced the following:

Seek immediate care if you experience these symptoms — this is not a wait-and-see-how-I-feel-later kind of injury. 

How do you make a diagnosis of an ACL tear?

Our doctors make every effort to understand the nature of how your injury happened. We’ll perform a thorough exam of your knee, moving it into various positions and looking at the swelling and palpitating areas of tenderness.

Your symptoms may be enough to diagnose an ACL tear, but to confirm the findings, our doctors may order an X-ray to rule out a bone fracture or an MRI or ultrasound to look at the soft tissue of your knee. To make your diagnosis easy, we offer same-day MRIs right here at our office. That means you won’t have to travel to another location for diagnostic services. 

What do I do when I feel pain due to an ACL tear?

In the immediate aftermath of your injury, the RICE protocol can help:

Rest: Avoid putting any pressure or performing any weight-bearing activity.

Ice: Apply an ice pack to your knee for 20 minutes at a time, at least every two hours. 

Compression: Wrap your knee with a bandage or compression wrap to manage the swelling. 

Elevation: While you're seated or reclined, prop your knee up on pillows. 

As you heal, you’ll most likely be given crutches or a knee scooter to help you get around.

Will I need surgery for an ACL tear?

Physical therapy may be enough to ease the pain and swelling of an ACL tear for people who exercise modestly. The exercises taught to you help you build strength in the muscles around the knee. It’s essential that you perform the exercises at home as directed and not just at your physical therapy appointments. 

Active people or athletes who want to continue their sport following an ACL tear may require surgery. If you have a significant tear that involves more than one ligament, it most likely will require surgical repair. 

Our orthopedic team may also recommend surgery if physical therapy fails to provide you the stability to perform daily activities. 

How do I manage pain following surgery?

Following surgery, you’ll need to keep the surgical site clean and dry. Ice helps reduce the initial swelling and pain. Our orthopedists may also recommend wearing a brace or using crutches for a short time. 

Physical therapy helps strengthen your knee and the muscles around it. The therapy begins almost immediately with gentle range of motion and simple strengthening exercises. 

Within the first week, you’ll be weight-bearing and performing advanced strengthening and balance activities. 

Initial recovery from an ACL tear takes 12-16 weeks, and full recovery to return to your prior level of activity may take 6-9 months. Sometimes, it can take a year or more. It’s essential to not rush the healing process and return to activities only once we’ve cleared you.

If you suspect you have an ACL tear, contact Silicon Valley Orthopaedics today for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Call today or use this website to schedule your visit.

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