If you’re a big footy fan (it doesn’t matter which code), the phrase “ACL injury” is likely one that you’re very familiar with already.
You’ll know that it’s one of the most common injuries our top footy players run afoul of.
But do you know what the ACL is, and what its function is?
Are you contemplating getting back into your favourite sport and worried about getting an ACL injury of your own?
You’ve got the questions, Physio AUS has the answers.
Today, our Highett physio explains the ACL, and how physio can help you recover from common ACL injuries.
Our Highett physio explains the ACL
Joints are complex – arguably, they’re one of the most complicated parts of your entire musculoskeletal system.
The whole knee joint is held together by four main ligaments that provide stability and control excessive knee motion.
One of these important ligaments is the ACL (or Anterior Cruciate Ligament).
The ACL sits diagonally in the middle of the knee, and connects your thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia) together.
Its main job is to control the forward motion of the tibia and essentially stop it from moving too far forward – if you’ve ever wondered by your lower leg doesn’t swing forward everytime you take a step, you can thank your ACL!
In addition to its role in controlling forward motion, the ACL also helps stabilise your knee joint.
Specifically, it helps regulate rotational movements at the knee during pivoting and turning movements.
Needless to say, these roles put a lot of strain on the ACL – strain that’s only made worse by certain sports that involve a lot of sudden changes in direction.
Common ACL injuries and their causes
As we mentioned above, the ACL is responsible for helping regulate knee rotations and plays an important role in pivoting and turning movements.
However, it can only take so much!
If you accidentally twist your knee a bit too far beyond its normal range of motion, you may end up injuring your ACL.
In particular, sports and activities that involve a lot of sudden changes in direction are more likely to result in ACL injuries. Footy players are just some of the people our Highett physio treats – we also see ACL injuries pop up all the time in basketball and soccer players, too.
While ACL injuries are non-contact injuries, in some cases, ACL injury may also be the result of a bad tackle or fall.
This can result in…
Just like the ligaments in your ankle joint, the ACL may suffer from sprains.
Sprains are stretching or tearing in the ligaments that connect bones and tissue, often as a direct result of overuse or injury. These can damage the ligaments in your joints to the point where they stretch and even break, negatively affecting your balance and mobility.
They’re most common in the ankle joint, but can afflict any ligament in the body.
And that includes the ACL!
Just like other sprains, ACl sprains are graded in severity from 1 to 3:
- Grade 1 ACL sprain: mild damage, but the ACL is still capable of providing stability to the knee joint
- Grade 2 ACL sprain: ACLs are stretched and may be partially torn, and may even become loose
- Grade 3 ACL sprain: complete ligament tear – the ACL is torn completely, and the knee may be unstable
Depending on the severity of the injury or sprain, your ACL may take anywhere between 2-4 weeks to heal from minor sprains, to up to a year for complete ACL tears.
Speaking of torn ACLs…
A torn ACL
A torn ACL is one of the most debilitating sports injuries out there. In many cases, ACL reconstructive surgery is the only option – especially if you’re keen to return to sport.
A full recovery can take months/years. Here’s a rough recovery timeline, following surgery:
- ~1 week – walking with crutches
- ~2 weeks – walking without crutches using a supporting brace
- ~3 weeks – walking up stairs on your own
- ~2 months – light to moderate exercise
- ~3 months – mostly recovered, though high-intensity exercise isn’t recommended
- ~9 months – full recovery (assuming you’ve been listening to your physio)
While it’s possible to recover from an ACL injury without surgery, be warned that this can stretch out the recovery period even further.
Very recent studies have shown that the ACL can actually repair from a full rupture without surgery – which is rather mind-blowing as this wasn’t previously thought possible.
Additionally, opting to skip surgery will also likely exclude you from returning to your favourite sport altogether, as the stabilising effect of the ACL is needed for your knees to withstand sudden motions involved in certain sports.
How a physiotherapist helps you recover from ACL injuries
When you injure one of your ACLs, your first port of call should be a medical professional GP or physio.
They will help diagnose the type of injury, as well as the extent of the damage.
Your GP might also put you in touch with a physiotherapist to provide a physical therapy routine that helps you make a full recovery from your ACL injury.
Physiotherapy for an injured or torn ACL is focused on firstly developing improved neuromuscular control of the lower extremity.
In particular, your physio in Highett will prescribe therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee – notably the quadriceps and hamstrings. This is important PRE-hab regardless of whether you’re going to need surgery or not.
By building up these muscles, we help the knee hold up to normal activity and moderate athletic activity.
Your routine may also include strength, flexibility, and range-of-motion training to build up the muscles surrounding the knee to compensate for a weakened ACL.
With a physiotherapist’s help, you can continue working and living your life while you heal, speed up your return to full mobility and ensure that your ACL recovers properly.
Call our Highett physio today!
Not being able to participate in your favourite sport isn’t the only consequence of an ACL or other knee injury. You’ll also struggle with simple everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, lifting heavy objects or sitting down.
Injury and pain shouldn’t stop you from living your life!
Whether it’s an ACL injury, some other sports-related injury or a chronic ache that’s been haunting you, our experienced team of physiotherapists can help.
At Physio AUS, we understand that not every case is the same.
We don’t just throw out a diagnosis – using our unique AUS system, we get to the heart of your unique circumstances.
You’ll receive a unique treatment plan that will help reduce pain in and around your knee, and speed up your recovery.
We’ll help you reach your stretch goals, whether that’s getting back into sport, or simply being able to live day-to-day pain-free!