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Sports injuries of the knee: ACL and meniscus tears

Posted November 08, 2020 by Ryan J Urchek, MD

picture of knee with the ACL highlighted and torn

You’ve seen it on the soccer field or basketball court: a player plants a foot, twists and goes down grabbing a knee. The problem is most likely tearing of the meniscus (cartilage) or ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Both can be extremely painful and sideline an athlete for months of recovery.

A tear usually requires more intervention than a strain or sprain.

A knee strain is a stretch or partial tear of a tendon or muscle, while a sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. These injuries don’t usually require surgery, while a torn muscle, tendon or ligament may need a trip to the OR.

Regardless, treatment for these tears begins with immediate first aid to reduce swelling and pain and to prevent further damage to the knee. We recommend the R.I.C.E. protocol of rest, icing, compression and elevation, closely followed by a visit to to a sports medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon.

How to tell if you’ve injured your meniscus or ACL.

Think of the meniscus as your knee joint’s shock absorber. It’s a crescent-shaped cartilage pad between your shin and thigh bones that helps distribute your weight between your upper and lower leg.

Your ACL stabilizes your knee and helps prevent hyperextension. It’s a ligament that attaches the front of your tibia to the back of your femur.

If your meniscus or ACL is torn in two or separated from the bone, your symptoms can include:

• joint tenderness, stiffness and swelling

• pain when you kneel or squat

• locking, catching or instability

With an ACL tear, you may feel the knee give away or shift. Patients often report the sound or feel of a pop as well. ACL tears will usually swell up quickly and make it difficult to walk or bear weight on your knee.

See an orthopedic doctor right away for a full evaluation.

Your specialist will usually start with nonsurgical treatments such as:

• a brace or cast to immobilize your knee

• physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that support your knee

• medication to reduce swelling and pain

The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chance of avoiding surgery. If it turns out that your injury requires a surgical repair, your surgeon will discuss the latest minimally-invasive arthroscopic procedures with you.

Recovery depends on the type and severity of your tear.

Meniscus tears generally heal in approximately three months or sooner (with and without surgery), while ACL tears take longer. If you don’t need surgery, recover takes about three to six months. Recovering from ACL surgery can take six months to a year.

Your Summa Health orthopedic team includes several board certified sports medicine specialists and surgeons. If you’d like to make an appointment, call 330.835.5533.

Ryan J Urchek, MD

Ryan J Urchek, MD

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