What Happens After an ACL Tear? | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

What Happens After an ACL Tear?

March 2, 2013 | Lee Gordon

Must See Sports Injuries Videos

Every year between 250,000 and 300,000 athletes undergo the long and arduous process of recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, according to Dallas Mavericks team physician Dr. Tarek O. Souryal.

Athletes are especially at risk for these injuries, because the ACL acts as the primary stabilizer in the knee, controlling the knee's rotational movement. The ligament can be stressed by changes of direction, such as the quick cuts that happen in soccer, basketball, football and . . . pretty much every sport, really. (See Understanding ACL Tears.)

Once an injury occurs, athletes are faced with two options: surgery or rehabilitation.

ACL surgery usually involves replacing the damaged ligament with an autograft from either a hamstring tendon from the athlete's own body; a patellar tendon from the athlete's body; or a hamstring or patellar tendon from a cadaver (yes, from a dead body). Patellar and hamstring tendon grafts are the most common.

Most doctors avoid open ACL surgery, preferring to make small incisions around the knee to replace the torn ligament.

According to Dr. Souryal, "ACL surgery is extremely technical. A millimeter difference here or there can have a huge impact on the result. The procedure is something that needs to be performed by an experienced sports orthopedist—someone who performs the surgery two or three times a week rather than two or three times a year, someone's who's familiar with the injury, its mechanism, and the demands when you return."

Once the surgery is complete, the athlete must spend several months strengthening and rehabbing the knee before returning to normal activity. (See The Athlete's Guide to the ACL.)

Surgery is usually more successful in repairing the ligament, avoiding cartilage damage and preventing the ACL from re-tearing. Many professional athletes, including Adrian Peterson and Willis McGahee, have undergone ACL surgery and returned to play at an elite level.

While intense rehabilitation alone is also an option, athletes can rarely return to their same level of play without surgery.

More Cool Stuff You'll Like

6 Simple Tips to Prevent Knee Injuries

Tips for Preventing Knee Injuries During the New School Sports Year By Jim Carpentier, CSCS Watching an athlete grab their painful knee on the turf,...

2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

3 Reasons to Correct Your Weak Links to Prevent Common Injuries

Tips for Working Out With a Hand or Arm Injury

5 Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Baseball Injuries

Coaches: Prevent Injuries With the Recovery Management Tool

Quarterbacks: 4 Tips to Keep Your Throwing Shoulder Healthy

7 Ways to Fix Back Pain

The Secret Weapon Powering Stephen Curry's Resurgence

The 8 Most Dangerous Exercises for Your Shoulders

5 Tips to Intelligently Train Through Lower Back Pain

Connective Tissue: The Key to Preventing ACL Injuries

How to Prevent Baseball Injuries During the Off-Season

Avoid Low-Back Pain With These 7 In-Season Exercises

6 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

Bulletproof Your Body with 5 Easy Injury Prevention Exercises

The Future of Sports Injury Rehabilitation

4 Strategies to Prevent Tommy John Surgery

Impressive Advances in ACL Rehab

3 Causes of Recurring Hamstring Injuries

5 Exercises to Prevent ACL Tears

10 Ways to Fix Back Pain

Pectoral Tendon Ruptures and Injury Prevention

How to Train With Running Blisters

6 Steps for Recovering From a Season-Ending Injury

4 Sports Massage Techniques to Relieve Tight Muscles

Outsmart Injury With These 4 Predictive Tests

How to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

8 of the Most Ridiculous Off-Field Athlete Injuries of All Time

What You Need to Know About Tiger Woods' Back Injury

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Hamstring-Focused Workout

Basketball Players: Prevent Ankle Sprains With These 3 Exercises

How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

Predicting the Impact of DeMarco Murray's Hand Injury

Why Strengthening This Muscle May Fix Knee Pain

Achilles Tendon Ruptures: Prevention and Recovery

Will Joel Embiid Be Able to Succeed in the NBA?

How to Prevent Injuries With 3 Yoga Poses

Evan Gattis's Protection-Enhanced Catcher's Helmet

Why a Sports Hernia Won't Ruin Jadeveon Clowney's Rookie Season

3 Ways to Prevent the Most Common Hockey Injury

How to Bench Press With a Shoulder Injury

How to Treat Piriformis Syndrome