Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury

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If there’s a chance the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) has stretched or torn inside your child’s knee, we know you don’t want to wait. We perform needed tests, make an accurate diagnosis and give you a clear plan as soon as possible.

Our goal is to use the most effective and least invasive treatment possible. If surgery is needed, our surgeons specialize in minimally invasive procedures like arthroscopy and use sophisticated techniques that protect your child’s growing bones. We also treat other injuries associated with ACL injuries:

  • Meniscus tears
  • Articular cartilage injury
  • Damage to other ligaments

ACL tears are one of the most common knee injuries. Together, our team of surgeons, nurses and in-house physical therapists will tailor treatment to your child’s unique condition and provide comprehensive care. We will minimize pain and enable a return to sports and other daily activities.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ACL Injury

The ACL is one of the four major ligaments inside the knee, connecting the back of the thighbone with the front of the shinbone. The ACL stabilizes the knee while it pivots, so injuries can happen in sports with sudden cuts, jumps or twists like soccer, football and basketball.

We advise parents to treat ACL injuries as soon as possible, to avoid further damage and minimize pain and discomfort. Common causes of ACL injuries include:

  • Stopping suddenly to change directions
  • Slowing down while running
  • Landing incorrectly from a jump
  • Enduring repetitive impact from activities such as jumping, running or pivoting
  • Experiencing forceful contact, such as a football tackle

Girls — and especially female athletes — face a greater risk of ACL injury because of anatomical differences like pelvic width. Other causes can include muscle strength imbalance and problems landing.

ACL injuries are commonly linked with a “popping” sound followed by swelling. Signs and symptoms can vary from child to child, though, and can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Limited range of motion in the knee
  • Discomfort walking

Feeling as if the knee is giving out, “locking” or “catching”

Tests and Diagnosis

Diagnosing ACL Injury

At the Andrews Institute, our experienced physicians start with a physical exam of your child’s knee to help determine if the ACL is torn. We may also order imaging scans such as an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and look for other knee injuries.

Your child’s physical evaluation may include:

  • Comparison of the injured and non-injured knees
  • Tests to stress the knee and identify weak and possibly injured ligaments

Diagnostic testing may include:

  • X-ray: Uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to take detailed images of the bones of the knee, checking for any fractures

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the knee joint, checking for tears in the ligaments and tendons

Treatments

Treating ACL Injury

If your child is diagnosed with an ACL injury, we work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Treatment options depend on several factors, including:

  • Severity of the injury
  • Age and skeletal development
  • Activity level and desire to return to sports

For a mild ACL sprain, your physician may recommend initial treatment to reduce pain and discomfort and strengthen the muscles around your child’s knee. Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Activity modification
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation

If the ACL is either partially or completely torn, we may recommend surgery:

  • ACL reconstruction surgery: Surgeons use a piece of tendon from another part of a patient’s leg or from a deceased donor to repair the ACL tear.
  • All-inside, all-epiphyseal ACL reconstruction (AE) surgery: If a physical exam or diagnostic test shows a patient is still growing, our surgeons use this advanced arthroscopic procedure to repair the ACL tear without disturbing skeletal growth or development.

Our expert pediatric surgeons use advanced techniques to protect your child’s growing bones. They also typically (whenever possible) take a minimally invasive, arthroscopic approach. Benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:

  • Faster recovery
  • Less pain after surgery (in most cases)
  • Smaller incisions
  • Earlier return to normal activities such as sports
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Decreased infection risk

After surgery, our physicians work collaboratively with in-house physical therapists to create an individualized rehabilitation plan for your child’s unique needs.

Resources

ACL Injury Resources

Learn more about ACL injuries in children:

KidsHealth®: ACL Injuries

FAQs

ACL Injury FAQs

What should I do if my child hurt a knee, and I’m not sure if they have a torn ACL?

Make an appointment to see a pediatric orthopedic physician. The physician will examine your child’s knee, take imaging scans and diagnose your child’s knee injury. We advise seeking treatment as soon as possible to prevent further injury.

My child is still growing, so is ACL reconstruction surgery even possible?

Possibly. It depends on the severity of the ACL injury and your child’s desire to make a quick return to sports. Our physicians specialize in treating ACL injuries in growing children with minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery that avoids their open growth plates. Your physician will discuss a clear treatment plan with you on your first visit.

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