An ACL injury: what to expect and how to treat it

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury (that one where your knee ‘pops’) is one of the highest occurring injuries. An ACL not only means a delayed return to sport but an increased likelihood of picking up a secondary injury, so it’s best to have your knee diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. 

Here at PPG, Dan has treated many ACL injuries all the way to returning to sport, so there’s no ‘kneed’ to get downhearted if you’re struggling with exercise or movement right now. Get in touch with Dan today.  

What is an ACL injury?

The ACL is a ligament inside your knee that joins your femur to the front of your shin. If you’ve experienced an ACL injury, it’s either a partial tear, complete tear, stretch or detachment of the ligament from your bone. 

OK, that’s the technical stuff. What can I expect with an ACL injury?

If you have an ACL injury, here’s what you might notice:

  1. Your knees dipping inwards
  2. A ‘pop’ at the time of the injury 
  3. Large amounts of knee swelling within 2 hours of the injury, which indicates bleeding within the joint (‘Hemarthrosis’) which will be quite painful 
  4. Limited range of motion 
  5. On-going pain in the joint 
  6. Your knee giving way under weight 

It’s more common for this to occur in females than males – in fact, women are 4-6 times more likely to get a non-contact ACL injury than men. It’s also handy to remember that most of these injuries (80%) are from non-contact. 

So, what might cause an ACL injury?

Most ACL injuries happen during sports, especially netball, football, and basketball. 

You might get an ACL injury if you:

  • are doing a sport that requires you to twist your knee, particularly when your foot is on the ground. For example, you land from a jump and twist in the opposite direction, like in Netball 
  • twist your knee playing with the grandkids or around the house 
  • quickly change direction when running or walking
  • come to a sudden stop, or slow down when running
  • over-extend your knee 

How we treat ACL injuries at PPG, Warragul

Here at PPG, we use clinical tests such as:

  • the anterior drawer test, where you are on the bed with your leg at 90 degrees
  • the lachmans test, which tests your range of motion and checks that we are dealing with an ACL injury

These are both easy tests that we can do in the Clinic as part of your appointment. 

To MRI or not to MRI?

Clinical tests are as accurate as an MRI to confirm ACL, however, if your injury is acute the pain and swelling may limit how much we can examine the joint. 

An MRI will provide greater information on the injury site of the ACL, extent of the damage, severity of injury and associated injuries, we’ll let you know if this is required after we’ve assessed your injury. 

ACL injury confirmed. What next?

Don’t worry, you’re in safe hands. We’ve seen and treated many ACL injuries over the years, some which required surgery and some which we were able to treat without surgery. 

Here are our first steps:

  1. Reduce the inflammation 
  2. Improve your range of movement and reduce your pain levels 
  3. Get your knee as strong as possible (the treatment plan for this will vary for all patients, if you’re post-operative we’ll take things a little slower)

You’ll often find that your knee returns to the same or a better level of functioning that before the injury. We’ll then work with you to devise a plan to stabilise your knee for the long-term. 

We’ll create a custom treatment plan for you that restores the motor control between the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip/lumbar control to avoid re-injury and osteoarthritis and optimises your long-term knee health. 

An ACL injury can undergo conservative or surgical treatment, however the outcome for either option is around the same and we’d prefer to prevent surgery if possible. Before we recommend surgery, we’ll test your strength, balance, motor control and sports readiness and see how we can improve it without surgical intervention.  We’ll take lots of factors into account before recommending surgery, such as the acuteness of your injury, past injuries, your overall health and your range of movement. 


Are you in A-C-HELL? Get in touch with our experienced team today

If you, or anyone you know has suffered an ACL injury, get in touch with our resident expert, Dan at Progressive Physiotherapy Group, Warragul. 

Every ACL injury is unique and requires an individually tailored approach. The injury can have a big impact upon your life but with tailored Physiotherapy you can find strategies to manage the rehabilitation and return to sports and previous activities.