What is ACL surgery?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the primary ligaments in your knee. You can injure your ACL during high-risk sports, such as basketball, football or soccer. If you tear your ACL it may be necessary to have surgical ACL reconstruction.

In this surgery, the doctor removes the torn ACL and replaces it with a healthy ligament from another part of your knee or from a donor. Not all injuries to the ACL require surgical reconstruction. If you’re relatively inactive, only participate in light activities and sports or don't have a lot of stress on your knees, then physical therapy might be enough to help you heal.

Who is a candidate for ACL surgery?

If you have an ACL injury, then your doctor might recommend surgery for the following reasons:

  • You're young and active.
  • You're an athlete and play high-risk sports.
  • You have more than one injured ligament in your knee.
  • Your knees are impacting your everyday life and activities.

What to expect from ACL surgery

Surgical ACL reconstruction is an outpatient procedure, meaning that you'll be able to go home the same day. The doctor makes small cuts around your knee. One of these openings is to insert a thin camera so the doctor can see inside your knee during surgery. The others allow the doctor's tools to work on your ligaments.

After removing the damaged ligament, the doctor drills holes in the thigh and shinbones. The doctor transplants the new ligament using these holes to place it in the same spot as the old one. The screws or other devices that hold the new ligament in place stay there permanently.

Once you wake up from anesthesia, healthcare staff will check you and allow you to go home. You'll need lots of rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) in the days following your surgery.

Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process to help strengthen your muscles and regain flexibility. Within the first several weeks of recovery, your knee should start to feel stronger. However, it usually takes eight to 12 months until you're recovered enough to return to sports.

Common conditions requiring ACL surgery

The main condition that requires surgical ACL reconstruction is an ACL injury. These occur when:

  • Stopping quickly
  • Twisting the knee
  • Impact to the knee(s)
  • Changing directions quickly
  • Jumping and landing improperly

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