ACL Injury

A hard football tackle.  A successful volleyball spike with an unstable landing.  

Fall sports are underway, and with them come the possibility of injury. With extensive experience in sports medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System orthopedic surgeon, Rick Wilkerson, D.O., answers questions about anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Q. What is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)?
A. The thighbone, shinbone and kneecap make up the knee joint.  Ligaments hold these bones together to provide stability to the joint.  The two cruciate ligaments control the back and forth motion of the knee and are found inside the knee joint.  The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is in the front and the posterior cruciate ligament is in back.

Q. How is the ACL injured, and what are the symptoms?
A. Injured ligaments are called “sprains” and there are three grades: Grade 1 – the ligament is slightly stretched, but able to keep the knee joint stable; Grade 2 – the ligament is stretched to the point it is loose (can be known as a partial tear); Grade 3 – the ligament is split into two pieces and the knee joint is unstable. 

The ACL can be injured by rapidly changing direction, slowing down while running or stopping suddenly, landing incorrectly, or direct contact or collision (such as a football tackle).

Symptoms of an ACL injury may include:

  • “Popping” noise at the time of injury
  • Weakness in the knee
  • Pain with swelling within 24 hours of injury
  • Loss of full range of motion
  • Tenderness along the joint line
  • Pain or discomfort when walking

Q. What is the treatment and recovery?
A. Most athletes (or active teens/young adults) that injure their ACL will require surgery.  Less active, older adults may manage their symptoms without surgery.  Surgical treatment is an outpatient procedure using arthroscopic (minimally invasive) techniques.  In most cases, the orthopedic surgeon reconstructs the ACL using a tissue graft taken from another tendon in the leg.  Regrowth of the ACL takes time, and with physical therapy, it may be six months or longer before the athlete can return to sports.

Make an appointment

Winneshiek Medical Center Orthopedic Clinic performs all sports medicine procedures including ACL reconstruction surgery; hip, knee and shoulder replacements, pediatric orthopedic surgery, hand procedures, fracture repair and more.  The orthopedic team is supported by the latest in MRI technology, quality skilled care for recovery, and the most specialized physical and occupational therapy practice in the region for successful rehabilitation.

In-person or telehealth appointments with Dr. Wilkerson or another member of the orthopedic team are available at Winneshiek Medical Center. Call 563-382-2911 to schedule.

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