Torn ACL treatment options
ACL tears, MCL tears, PCL tears, LCL tearsCall for 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 experienced a knee ligament injury. Getting back on your feet 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 return you to your active lifestyle faster and pain-free.
Do you need ACL surgery?
If you’ve torn your ACL, the answer depends on your age, activity level, and the severity of your injury. 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.
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.
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.
If you need immediate care for your ACL injury:
- You can make an appointment within 24 hours. Depending on availability, you may be seen by an orthopaedic specialist the same day you call for an appointment.
- You can get immediate care at Duke Orthopaedic Urgent Care. We provide orthopaedic-specific care at two convenient locations seven days a week. You will experience the convenience of fast service with no unnecessary exposure to sick people in the emergency room.
Seek care from an experienced knee specialist
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, sudden stops and starts lead to torn ACLs, and how to strengthen your knee to minimize your risk of re-injury. 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.
- Our orthopaedic program is ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report. Our fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeons and doctors perform more than 1,300 knee arthroscopies for ACL tears and other knee problems each year.
- Our surgical success is based on decades of ongoing research at Duke. We use sophisticated tools to study patient outcomes and measure surgical success with different types of ACL reconstruction.
- We choose the right graft for your condition. 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.
Knee arthroscopy is a procedure that can be used to diagnose knee pain and to perform ACL reconstruction surgery. The 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.
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 experiencing physical therapy, injury treatment and follow-up at one convenient location.
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 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 help him or her determine when you can safely return to your normal activities. This minimizes the risk of re-injury.