Managing a Torn ACL

If you have been diagnosed with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), it’s important to take certain steps to manage your injury before considering surgery. While surgery is often necessary to restore ACL function, there are ways to minimise pain, reduce swelling, and maintain stability in your knee during the initial period. Here are some practical tips on how to manage a torn ACL in the days after injury:

1. Rest and protect the knee

It’s crucial to allow your knee time to heal and avoid any activities that may further damage the torn ACL and injured knee. Rest is key, so try to minimise weight-bearing activities, especially those that involve pivoting or sudden changes in direction. Use one or two crutches, as these will help protect your knee and allow you to get around safely. You can weight bear as tolerated when using the clutches, in that you can place as much of your body weight on your injured leg as you can, but without increasing pain within the knee on walking.

2. Apply ice and compression:

For at least the first 24 hours after your injury, applying ice packs to your knee can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Wrap the ice pack in a thin cloth and apply it to the affected area for about 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Additionally, wearing a compression sleeve or using an elastic bandage can provide support and help control swelling.

3. Elevate the leg:

Elevating your leg can assist in reducing swelling. Whenever you’re sitting or lying down, elevate and support your entire leg. Do not place a pillow or other support under your knee alone. Try to prop your leg up so that your knee is elevated above the level of your heart. This position encourages fluid drainage and reduces inflammation.

4. Take over-the-counter pain medication:

Non-prescription pain relievers such as paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns or medical conditions.

5. Physiotherapy and strengthening exercises:

Physiotherapy instruction will improve the stability and strength of your knee prior to any surgery. Physio exercises focus on strengthening the surrounding muscles to compensate for the torn ACL and enhance overall knee stability. Be sure to follow your physio’s guidance and do the exercises regularly. For example, regaining full knee extension (straightness) is a critical goal before any surgery and is encouraged. However, you may not be able to fully straighten your knee in certain circumstances if, for example, you have a badly torn meniscus (shock absorber) within your knee.

6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle:

Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can have a positive impact on your recovery. A nutritious diet rich in vitamins and minerals can support tissue healing, and maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on your knee joint.

7. Stay positive and seek support:

Dealing with a torn ACL can be emotionally challenging, especially if it limits your activities and impacts your daily life. It’s important to stay positive and seek support from friends, family and teammates. Sharing your concerns and experiences with others who have gone through similar situations can provide comfort and encouragement.

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