Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

ACL tears often plague athletes who need their knees in top shape for sports like soccer, football, and basketball. But you can tear (or sprain) your ACL with an awkward step off the curb.

Sumit Dewanjee, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, trauma specialist, and sports medicine physician at FXRX in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona. He provides top-level orthopedic services and is often tasked with diagnosing and treating ACL tears.

Here’s what Dr. Dewanjee and our team at FXRX want you to know about recovering from ACL tears.

What is an ACL tear?

An ACL tear refers to a sprain or tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the major ligaments in the knee joint. It connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia) and provides stability to the joint.

An ACL tear can occur due to a sudden twisting or hyperextension of the knee or a sudden stop or change in direction. ACL tears are one of the most common knee injuries among athletes.

We typically classify ACL tears as:

Grade one

This grade occurs when your ligament has stretched enough to cause pain and swelling but still acts as a stabilizer for the knee joint.

Grade two

With a grade two tear, your ACL is stretched to the point that it’s too loose to maintain full knee stability.

Grade three

If you have a grade three ACL tear, the ligament is torn in half or pulled entirely off the bone. This causes significant pain, swelling, and instability of the knee joint. Most ACL injuries are partial or complete tears.

Symptoms of an ACL tear may include:

Swelling and pain caused by an ACL tear usually occur quickly, and most people hear or feel a pop or snap in the affected knee when the injury occurs.

Will an ACL tear heal on its own?

Unfortunately, an ACL tear doesn’t heal on its own. Blood supply to ligaments is limited, making it difficult for any ligament to repair itself. 

Also, because the ACL is crucial to knee stability, a tear can lead to long-term knee problems, such as the knee giving way when you’re standing or walking, chronic pain, and early-onset arthritis.

How do you treat an ACL tear?

If you experience a partial ACL tear, aren’t particularly active, or don’t plan on returning to your sport of choice, Dr. Dewanjee may recommend physical therapy to restore strength and bracing to help ensure joint stability.

But even with conservative treatment, the torn ACL won’t fully heal on its own. As a result, there may still be a risk of knee instability and future injury.  

That’s why Dr. Dewanjee usually recommends surgical repair or reconstruction of the ligament if you have a significant tear, plan to remain moderately active, or wish to return to your sport.

Dr. Dewanjee uses advanced technologies and surgical techniques to perform ACL reconstruction, which includes replacing the torn ligament with a tissue graft. 

A personalized rehab program following your surgery restores strength, flexibility, and range of motion to the affected knee.

Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Dewanjee at FXRX today by calling our office or requesting an appointment online.

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