Does a Torn ACL Mean that I'll Need Surgery?

Does a Torn ACL Mean that I'll Need Surgery?

If you hang around a locker room long enough, you’re bound to hear a tale about a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the journey back to full function. While athletes are more prone to ACL tears, this type of injury can happen to anyone and figuring out the best treatment option — surgical or nonsurgical — depends on a number of factors.

At our practice, Dr. Timothy Wilson and our team specialize in ACL reconstruction, which means we’ve seen our fair share of knee injuries. If we diagnose you with a torn ACL and you’re wondering whether surgery is the best option, here are a few points to consider.

The degree of the tear

An ACL injury is essentially a sprain of the ligament and there are there are three degrees of sprains:

If you’ve only wrenched your knee (grade I sprain), we generally treat the problem with rest, ice, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy.

If you have a partial tear, we can go about treating the problem as we do a grade I sprain, especially at first. If you follow our care instructions to the letter, you may be able to regain function of your knee, which typically takes about three months. Should your ligament not respond well to these more conservative efforts, we can regroup to determine whether surgery provides the best solution.

Please note, however, that partial tears aren’t as common as full tears or ruptures as the ligament is far more apt to tear completely once it’s stretched beyond a certain point.

With that in mind, with a complete tear, we can try a nonsurgical approach, but full ruptures generally don’t heal well without surgical intervention.

Your lifestyle

Another big consideration when it comes to surgical intervention for a torn ACL is your lifestyle. If you enjoy being active and taking to your feet, you likely rely on your knees a great deal. 

If you have a complete tear and you choose not to have us reconstruct your ACL surgically, you’ll likely end up with a knee that’s not stable enough for cutting or pivoting. While these actions are largely associated with sports, you might be surprised to find that this same instability can even affect a walk down the street.

Your comfort

Your comfort is a key point that you should also consider. If your knee continues to bother you, it may be time for us to go in and surgically repair your ACL.

Avoiding future injuries

Our last point is an important one. If you have a complete ACL tear and we don’t reconstruct it surgically, you may be more susceptible to knee injuries down the road due to the chronic instability and ACL deficiency. In fact, the Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that, “With chronic instability, a large majority of patients will have meniscus damage when reassessed 10 or more years after the initial injury. Similarly, the prevalence of articular cartilage lesions increases in patients who have a 10-year-old ACL deficiency.”

If you have more questions about whether surgery is the best option for your ACL tear, please contact our office in Lexington. Kentucky, to schedule a consultation.

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