From football to field hockey, everyone is excited for fall athletes to take back to the field after a period of isolation. Unfortunately, getting hurt is a regular occurrence during any sports season, and many fall sports create the perfect environment for an injury to the ACL. ACL injuries are so common that they make up 40% of all reported sports-related injuries -- if you’re an athlete, you probably know someone who has injured their ACL if you haven’t done so yourself. But do you know what the ACL is, or how ACL injuries actually occur?

At OAA Orthopedic Specialists, our board-certified, fellowship-trained sports medicine team wants athletes to be educated and aware of the risks posed to their bodies as they play their sport. Here are some of our most frequently asked questions about ACL injuries, along with the answers that every fall athlete should know:

What’s an “ACL,” Exactly?

Your “ACL” is known to your physician as the “anterior cruciate ligament.” Your body is full of ligaments, which are a type of flexible, durable tissue that connects two bone or cartilage structures together. The anterior cruciate ligament is found in your knee, and its job is to connect your thigh bone to your shin and keep your knee stable as you walk, run, and take impact throughout your day. As you can imagine, your ACL works especially hard as you put more stress on it during athletic activities.

When Do ACL Injuries Happen?

Your ACL is strong, and your knees can withstand a lot of impact, especially with plenty of stretching and exercise as part of your sports training. However, sometimes things happen during a game that may cause your knee to jam or pivot in the wrong direction, resulting in a tear or sprain to the ACL. The following motions are among the most likely to result in an ACL injury:

  • Suddenly changing direction
  • Pivoting with a foot planted in the ground
  • Making an awkward landing on your feet from a jump
  • Suddenly stopping in your tracks
  • Taking a direct hit to your knee, like a tackle or a check

Unfortunately, even when practicing proper technique, many of these movements can easily occur by accident while playing fall sports like football, field hockey and soccer. 

How Do I Know I’ve Injured My ACL?

Soreness in the knee after a game is never a good sign, but there are a few specific things to look out for if you think you may have injured your ACL, such as:

  • A loud, audible ‘pop’ or popping sensation in your knee
  • Severe knee pain and a decrease in your range of motion
  • Inability to bear weight on your affected knee
  • Inability to continue playing or even walking
  • Severe swelling in the affected knee

If you’ve injured your ACL, you’ll likely feel that it’s more than just a bruise or sprain.  If you have any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment to see your sports medicine specialist as soon as you can.

What Can You Do For My ACL Injury?

First thing’s first: if you’ve injured your ACL, you’ll need first aid to alleviate pain and swelling in your knee and keep you comfortable until your orthopedic specialist can reach a final diagnosis. Remember: only a doctor can truly determine the source of your pain, so try not to self-diagnose while you could be receiving medical care. Once it’s been determined that you’ve injured your ACL, your specialist may place your knee in a splint and recommend a period of rest and physical therapy to allow the ligament to heal properly. However, if your ACL has been severely torn, you may need surgery to reconstruct the ligament.

Injuries to the ACL may be common, but that doesn’t make them less painful or scary. If you’ve been injured, the Sports Medicine Institute at OAA Orthopedic Specialists is here to provide you with comprehensive, compassionate care that’s geared toward restoring you to your full range of motion, eliminating chronic pain, and getting you back on the field. Our physicians have helped athletes at all levels recover from ACL injuries and more, from recreational players to NFL pros.

If you’ve been injured, the experienced, compassionate physicians at OAA will work with you to get you back to the game you love as quickly and effectively as possible. If you’re ready to start living pain-free, schedule an appointment with us today.