Torn ACL

Torn ACL

ACL Tears, MCL Tears, PCL Tears, LCL Tears

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Getting back on your feet after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury may require physical therapy alone or in combination with knee surgery. Duke knee specialists combine the latest advances in ACL surgery with the knowledge and expertise of knee-specific physical therapists. We know you want to return to the field or your exercise routine as soon as possible, and we do our best to help you achieve your goal safely.

Duke Knee Specialists
Meet our orthopaedic surgeons, knee specialists, and physical therapists. View their profiles and select the one that’s right for you.
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When to Seek Treatment

Your knee relies on four major ligaments to keep it stable.

  • The ACL and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are in the center of your knee. The ACL controls rotation and forward movement of the knee joint, while the PCL controls backward movement.
  • The medial collateral ligament (MCL) controls stability of the inner (medial) knee while the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) controls stability of the outer (lateral) knee.

When to Make an Appointment
A pop and knee swelling during physical activity need prompt medical attention; there's a good chance you’ve torn your ACL or had a knee ligament injury. 

Visit Duke Orthopaedics Urgent Care
Our convenient orthopaedic urgent care locations in Durham, Apex, and Wake Forest are open seven days a week. Get fast service with no long waits and no unnecessary exposure to illness. No appointment needed; walk-ins are welcome.

Duke Orthopaedics
Duke Health orthopaedic clinics are located in Durham, Raleigh, Cary, and throughout North Carolina.

Do You Need ACL Surgery?

Age and Activity Level
When the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is torn or stretched out of shape, it leads to knee instability. If you’re older, sedentary, and not engaging in jumping or twisting activities, physical therapy may be all you need. Younger people who want to remain active will benefit from ACL reconstruction surgery combined with physical therapy before and after surgery.

Thorough Exam Determines Extent of Injury
A thorough examination, including X-rays and MRI, will determine which knee ligament you’ve injured. If it’s your MCL, PCL or LCL, knee surgery may not be necessary. Our experience shows these knee ligaments often heal on their own better and faster with knee bracing, early motion, and physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication. When these injuries are combined with an ACL injury, reconstruction surgery may be recommended.

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ACL Surgery

Knee Arthroscopy

Can be used to diagnose knee pain and to perform ACL reconstruction surgery. This minimally invasive approach uses small incisions through which a thin, lighted tube with a camera at its tip -- called an arthroscope -- is inserted to reach the knee. Knee arthroscopy has proven to be a safer alternative to open knee surgery and promotes faster recovery.

Regional Nerve Blocks

Most of our ACL surgeries are performed using regional nerve blocks, which means you don't need to be intubated to receive general anesthesia. This major advance is safer, speeds your recovery, and ensures you experience less pain.

Physical Therapy for ACL Injuries

You'll have the convenience of receiving physical therapy, injury treatment, and follow-up care at one convenient location.

Before Your ACL Surgery

You will start knee-specific physical therapy immediately. Physical "prehab" prepares your knee for ACL surgery and ensures you have a faster recovery. If you’ve torn your MCL, PCL, or LCL, it may be all you need to heal the ligament.

After Your ACL Surgery

After surgery, your physical therapists work on strength and conditioning of your knee. Functional movement screening, developed at Duke, gives your doctor objective measurements of your recovery and helps him or her determine when you can safely return to your normal activities. This minimizes the risk of re-injury.

Best Orthopaedic Hospital in North Carolina
Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital’s nationally ranked orthopaedics program was named best in North Carolina by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.

Why Choose Duke

A Team of Knee Specialists
Duke knee specialists include primary care sports medicine specialists, orthopaedic physician assistants, ACL surgeons, and physical therapists who specialize in knee injuries associated with specific sports. We understand how pivoting and sudden stops and starts lead to torn ACLs, and how to strengthen your knee to minimize your risk of re-injury. 

You Benefit From Our Ongoing Research and Innovation

  • Duke Orthopaedics pioneered several surgical breakthroughs, including novel fracture repairs and advanced surgical techniques.
  • Our surgical success is based on decades of ongoing Duke research.
  • We use sophisticated tools to study patient outcomes, measure surgical success, and fine-tune our techniques to ensure you have the most options and experience the best outcome. 

Our Large Surgical Volumes Result in Better Outcomes 
You can view our surgical volume for each specialty on our providers' profile pages.

The Right Graft for Your Injury
ACL surgeons use your own hamstring tendons, your patella tendon, or donor tissue to reconstruct your ACL. Our knee surgeons rely on extensive Duke research and years of experience performing these surgeries when recommending which graft will work best for you. Graft recommendations take into consideration the type of athlete you are, your age, and previous injuries. Our goal is to recommend a graft that minimizes your pain and maximizes your recovery after ACL reconstruction surgery. 

Reviewed: 08/12/2016