The goals of treatment for an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury are to:
- Restore normal or almost normal stability in the knee.
- Restore the level of function you had before the knee injury.
- Limit loss of function in the knee.
- Prevent injury or more damage to other knee structures.
- Reduce pain.
- Prevent osteoarthritis.
You'll need to work with your doctor to decide whether you should have several months of rehabilitation (rehab) or surgery with rehab. Not all ACL tears need surgery.
Treatment right after an injury
If you know you have injured your ACL, the first treatment consists of:
- First aid to reduce swelling and pain. This may include resting the knee, applying ice, using gentle compression with an elastic bandage, elevating the leg, and taking pain medicines, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Using crutches and/or splints in the first few days. If crutches or splints are used for too long, the muscles will become weaker from too little activity. Then movement of the knee will become stiff and restricted.
- Strength and motion exercises to help prepare you for treatment.
What type of other treatment you have depends on:
- How much of your ACL is torn (whether it is a grade I, II, or III sprain).
- When the injury occurred and how stable your knee is.
- Whether other parts of the knee are injured. If they are, it will be harder for the strong parts of your knee to compensate and protect the injured parts.
- Whether you had other knee problems before, such as injuries that caused long-term (chronic) ACL deficiency, or osteoarthritis.
- How active you are.
- Your age and overall health.
- Your willingness and ability to complete a long and rigorous rehab.
Treatment options include:
- Nonsurgical treatment only, such as a physical rehab program.
- ACL surgery to reconstruct the ACL or to reconstruct it and repair other injuries, such as a meniscus tear.
Recovery from an ACL injury varies for each person. Your treatment should continue until your knee is stable and strong rather than for a certain length of time.
Treatment in children and teens
Treatment of ACL injuries in children and teens involves special concerns, because children's bones are still growing. Talk to your doctor about treatment choices for your child.