Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries
About ACL Injuries
Knee injuries are common among active kids, especially athletes, and a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — a ligament that helps give the knee its stability — is one of the most common types of knee injuries.
Kids who play contact sports (like football and basketball) or so-called "cutting" sports (like soccer and baseball that feature swift, abrupt movements such as pivoting, stopping, or turning on a dime) are most likely to get ACL injuries.
The injury also happens when a child jumps and lands on the feet with knees straight or "locked"instead of flexed, putting excessive pressure on the knee joint and causing the ACL, a rope-like band, to tear or break apart.
Teenage girls are 8 to 10 times more likely than boys to tear an ACL. That's because girls have different risk factors that make ACL injuries more likely, such as body shape, limb alignment, neuromuscular control, and hormones that might loosen the ligament.
ACL injuries can be very painful, causing a child to be unsteady on the feet and have difficulty walking. Depending on the age of the child and the severity of the injury, a torn ACL often requires surgery in addition to 6 to 12 months of rehabilitation.
What an ACL Does
The ACL is one of the four main ligaments in the knee joint that connect it to the shinbone (tibia) and thighbone (femur). It is located deep within the joint, behind the kneecap (patella), above the shinbone, and below the thighbone.
Together with the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), which crosses over it to form an "X," the ACL helps keep the knee stable while rotating.
Specifically, the ACL keeps the shinbone in place and prevents it from moving too far forward and away from the knee and thighbone. It also provides stability when rotating the shinbone.
Signs and Symptoms
Kids with a partially or completely torn ACL may or may not have symptoms, depending on the severity of the injury.
Most will have some instability when walking, feeling "wobbly" or unable to bear weight on the affected leg. Oftentimes there is pain, which can be very intense, and swelling of the knee joint, which can happen within 24 hours of the tear.
Many kids report hearing a "pop" sound — the sound of the ligament tearing. Others also report the knee feels "less tight" or less compact than it was before.
A child who has injured a knee — whether out on the field or at home — should stop all activity (to prevent further injury) and seek immediate medical care. In the meantime, keep the area iced — place the ice in a plastic bag, wrap the bag in a cloth, and hold it to the knee for up to 20 minutes at a time. Also, keep the knee elevated as much as possible to reduce swelling. Do not let your child bear weight on the knee.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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