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ACL Injury FAQs

How will I know if I have a torn ACL?

An ACL tear is an injury that occurs frequently in sports such as soccer, basketball, skiing and football. It typically occurs from a sharp change in direction, twisting on a planted foot, or extending the knee beyond its normal range of motion. When you tear your ACL you will likely collapse and experience sharp pain in the knee. Your knee will swell up within a few hours and become stiff, causing you to limp. When you attempt to stand your knee may buckle, and you will my continue to experience problems with twisting and turning.

Can I walk on a torn ACL?

Walking with a torn ACL can increase pain and other symptoms and may cause additional damage to the other structures of the knee. Knee instability increases your risk of additional injury including a meniscus tear which can lead to knee osteoarthritis in the future. Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative disease of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. As the cartilage deteriorates the bones rub together causing joint pain, swelling and stiffness, bone spurs and altered gait. The most common reason for a knee replacement is knee osteoarthritis.

I have an ACL tear and a torn meniscus. Can I walk with a torn meniscus?

You can walk with a torn meniscus, but you can cause further damage. Sometimes swelling or a certain types of meniscus tears (bucket handle meniscus tear in which the meniscus tears and flips inside the joint) can cause knee pain, and interfere with your ability extend your knee, climb stairs, and get in and out of a car or a chair.

I have a completely torn ACL but it is feeling better. Do I need surgery?

It is possible to live with an ACL tear if you are willing to significantly alter your lifestyle and avoid activities that require pivoting. Your surgeon may say “Modify your life to fit your knee or modify your knee to fit your life.” Patients should be aware that they are risking arthritis due to long term knee instability.

Can I avoid surgery for a torn ACL?

Low activity patients with arthritis may choose to avoid surgery and participate in rehabilitation. Surgery is the best option for young, active patients. These patients will participate in prehabilitation (prehab), which is physical therapy immediately after injury and prior to surgical reconstruction, targeted to decrease swelling, improve range of motion, increase hamstring mobility, and activate the quadriceps muscles. This puts you in the best condition prior to surgery. Studies demonstrate that patients who participate in prehab have a greater rate of return to sports and improved surgical outcomes. In some cases, prehab can improve your mobility sufficiently so that you may return to low-impact sports with a brace.

Can I delay surgery?

Yes. Conservative non-surgical treatment can potentially be successful, if you are willing to avoid high intensity sports and pivoting movements. Patients who have the goal of returning to high-risk sports will need surgical reconstruction. Generally, delaying surgery until the pain, swelling, and inflammation have decreased, and range of motion has been restored results in the best outcomes. The timing of surgery is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Why are girls and women are more likely to sustain an ACL injury during competitive sports than boys and men?

Women are 3-5 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than men. There is no single reason why females are more vulnerable. It is a combination of hormones, genetics, hip and leg alignment, and biomechanics.

How long does it take to recover from ACL reconstruction surgery?

Everyone is different, but on average it will take between 6 and 9 months for full recovery and return to play.

Is there any one thing I can tell my teenage athlete that they can do to prevent an ACL injury?

ACL injuries are common in adolescent athletes who participate in high-intensity activity and can be devastating. Research shows that when a teen athlete is fatigued, the risk of an ACL injury increases by 44.7%. Prevention training and fatigue resistance training can help decrease the risk.

Dr. Jorge Chahla is a sports medicine surgeon in Chicago, Illinois who specializes in the treatment of knee injuries. He in internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of sports medicine and is a pioneer in novel therapies. Dr. Chahla’s focus is on customized and personalized care to meet the needs of each of his patients. He uses minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures to preserve the natural joint and reduce recovery time to accelerate his patients’ return to the activities they love.


At a Glance

Dr. Jorge Chahla

  • Triple fellowship-trained sports medicine surgeon
  • Performs over 500 surgeries per year
  • Assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush University
  • Learn more

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