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What is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament?

What is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament_

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Knee injury is common in athletes. One injury regularly heard on the news or in a family table discussion is anterior crucial ligament (ACL) rupture or tear.

ACL is a ligament that helps support the knee joint and provides feedback to the knee for sports movement control. It is most commonly torn or ruptured during pivoting sports when the leg bone ( tibial) is anchored on the floor, and the thigh bone ( femur) is rotated in the opposite direction or when a player is running and suddenly stops with the knee ending up in a hyperextended position.

Once the ligament is ruptured, the common belief is to pursue a surgical option to replace the ligament with a hamstring tendon or patellar tendon graft. Rehabilitation is often only commenced once the surgery is completed. However, it would require 9 to 12 months of post-operative rehabilitation before anyone returns to a sporting field. A recent research study has suggested surgery is not always the best option for ACL tear management.

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1. Surgery does not reduce the risk of osteoarthritis or knee degenerative changes compared to physiotherapy rehabilitation.

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Studies looked into long-term consequences (up to 20 years) of different management pathways on knee cartilage changes and bony structures after ACL rupture have found that the cartilage thickness and degenerative changes in the knee are the same regardless of the management pathway.

2. Physiotherapy rehabilitation can improve function or pain and surgical management.

Physiotherapy treatment can effectively reduce pain and improve function without the expensive cost and risk of surgery by directing individuals to a progressive exercise program. Based on several research studies that were done on high-level athletes across the world, they found that those who have gone through surgical pathways and physiotherapy rehabilitation programs have the same functional outcome and pain level after 2, 5 and 10 years time. Those who only completed physiotherapy rehabilitation were able to return to their previous sports level as well as those who had surgery.

3. Complete ACL tear can potentially heal without surgery.

There have been cases and reports that show ACL rupture or complete tear can reconnect by forming new scar tissue. Over time, a new ligament is formed as collagen and fibrous tissues are lined down to the ruptured site, and the knee can be as structurally stable as before injury.

4. Surgery has a significantly higher risk than conservative management.

Surgery creates surgical incisions and open wounds. It carries a risk of infection, bleeding, poor wound healing, graft failure, nerve damage and blood clots.

‘Surgery is not always necessary nor means better outcome’

For these reasons, conservative management should always be considered as the first-line treatment. Our physiotherapists are highly trained clinicians with extensive experience in managing ACL tear. They can provide a comprehensive assessment and management plan to assist you in safely returning to your previous level of function and achieve your life goals. The treatment that we provide for ACL rehabilitation generally involves:

  • Pain and swelling management
  • Knee strapping
  • Strength and conditioning program
  • Balance exercise
  • Proprioceptive training
  • Return to sports program
  • Brace prescription and recommendation


If you would like to discuss further your individual needs and concerns about your ACL injury, please contact us to book into seeing one of our experienced and friendly physiotherapist to help you to get back on your feet.

If you would like to book to see one of our physiotherapists, please press the following link: Book now for your journey to recovery.

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