An injury to the ACL is well-known to many athletes. It can be incredibly painful and often stops many people from performing the activities they love. But if you haven’t torn or ruptured your ACL, you might wonder what the ACL is and how it’s injured. Let’s take a look.

What is an ACL?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the strong bands of tissue that connect the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia).  It prevents excessive joint movement and helps maintain balance when walking, running, or jumping. Along with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), these ligaments prevent the tibia from sliding forward or backward relative to the thigh bone. Unfortunately, the ACL can tear or rupture with activity, they are quite common among athletes and can be painful and debilitating. In some cases, these injuries can derail an athlete’s career. In fact, ACL injuries are significantly more common in women athletes than men, especially in sports like soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. Fortunately, the treatment of ACL injuries and surgery have improved dramatically over the last 25 years. 

Surgery is the preferred method of treatment for acute ACL injuries, especially in athletes. Rehabilitation programs are also essential to strengthen the surrounding muscles and reduce stress on the ligament.

How is the ACL Injured?

There are a number of ways people injure their ACL. A few of the most common types of ACL injuries include:


In sports, especially football and rugby, it is common for players to collide with one another. When players collide, such as a low tackle around the knee area, the force can be transferred to the ACL and cause a tear or rupture of the ligament. In most cases, this kind of injury requires surgery to be able to return to these types of sports.

Changing Direction Quickly

Changing direction quickly to keep up with the game, especially in soccer, football and basketball, can cause the ACL to tear in what is called a non-contact injury. Rapidly changing direction places increased stress on the ACL and can cause it to tear. 

Landing Incorrectly

Landing incorrectly after a jump in basketball, tennis, gymnastics, or volleyball can put sudden high stress on the ACL and lead to an injury. Exerting too much pressure or landing in an awkward stance can lead to either tears or ruptures of the ligament. 

How is ACL Surgery Performed?

In most cases, the ACL is not repaired but instead, the surgeon creates a new ACL from an existing ligament or tendon from somewhere else. This is called ACL Reconstruction. Primary repair of the ACL itself historically was not a very successful procedure, however, more recent techniques have been developed where this can be done successfully in select cases. This procedure is done out-patient and the patients can go home the same day. Please consult your orthopedic surgeon, who can provide you with information about their preferred technique for these injuries.

How Long Does Recovery Take?

Although the surgery is relatively short, ACL recovery and return to full sports can take a long time. Depending on different factors, patients typically go to therapy for two to six months. Return to high-level sports can sometimes take six to twelve months.

Schedule A Consultation

If you’re struggling with knee, shoulder or elbow issues, now is the time to schedule a consultation with Dr. Steven S. Goldberg, M.D. He is a board-certified surgeon specializing in orthopedic and sports medicine and an active participant in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. He can provide a personalized treatment plan that will have you back on your feet as quickly as possible.

To schedule a consultation today, call our Naples, FL office at (239) 316-7600 or use our online appointment form.