Did you feel a pop in your knee — followed by intense pain and swelling — after quickly turning or pivoting to your side? Although images (such as those from an MRI) will be needed to confirm it, there's a good chance you tore your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament. This ligament stabilizes the knee joint, and since it has a light blood supply (like all ligaments), it can take quite a while to heal. Here is a look at the treatments your orthopedist is likely to recommend for a torn ACL.
If the tear is very mild and you are otherwise healthy — being young helps, too — the ACL might be able to heal on its own with a little help from various therapies. You will have to be very conscientious about staying off your knee and resting, as well as applying ice to the joint several times per day.
You'll probably also have to attend physical therapy to strengthen the knee joint. Your orthopedist will check on the knee every few weeks to see how the healing process is going. If you don't show marked improvement within three to six months, they will probably recommend surgery.
Most ACL tears do require surgical repair, and the method that is used these days is called arthroscopy. Your surgeon will make two or three small incisions in your knee in order to insert a camera and various surgical tools. They will then remove a small portion of the tendon that attaches your knee cap, and use that tendon to form a graft to hold your ACL together.
The incisions will be stitched up, and you'll be sent home to heal. Most people require about one month of intense rest, and then they can slowly ramp up their activity for a full recovery about 6 months post-injury.
If you fully tore your ACL, or if your orthopedist cannot use tissue from your patellar tendon to make the repair, they may have to perform open surgery on your knee. In this case, a large incision is made down the length of the knee, and surgery is performed with standard, full-size tools. Open surgery takes longer to recover from and causes more pain during recovery, so most surgeons try to avoid performing it unless absolutely necessary. Note that both open surgery and arthroscopic surgery are performed under anesthesia.
If you think you've torn your ACL, make an appointment with an orthopedist who offers knee arthroscopy services as soon as possible. There's a chance you can recover without surgery, but you will still need the guidance and care of a professional.