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Will an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

Every year in the United States, between 100,000 and 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears occur, resulting in significant knee instability for women and men of all ages. ACL tears are especially common among athletes, but they can occur in anyone of just about any age. For many patients, ACL tears require surgery — but that’s not always the case.

At Performance Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine — with locations in Shrewsbury, Wall Township, and Toms River, New Jersey — David Dickerson, MD, helps patients get the care they need so ACL injuries heal quickly and completely. Every knee injury treatment plan is customized to the individual patient’s needs and goals, using both surgical and nonsurgical approaches when appropriate.

Will an ACL tear heal on its own? Maybe. If your ACL is injured, here’s how to tell when surgery just might be the better option.

Full and partial ACL tears

The ACL is a major knee ligament that helps keep your knee stable and functional. Most ACL tears occur as a result of pivoting movements — changing directions rapidly while moving — but they can also be caused by falls and other impacts. 

A torn ACL typically causes symptoms of instability in the knee, along with knee pain and swelling. Sometimes, the cartilage, kneecap, or other ligaments can be injured, as well. 

ACL tears can be full, which means the tear extends through the entire ACL, or partial, extending only part-way through the ligament. The type of symptoms and their severity vary depending on whether the tear is full or partial.

Treating an ACL tear

Before Dr. Dickerson prescribes any type of treatment for an ACL injury, he performs a thorough evaluation of the joint. X-rays or MRIs see inside the joint to determine the severity of the tear. The treatment he prescribes is based on factors such as whether the tear is full or partial, the symptoms you’re having, your lifestyle, and your own treatment goals and expectations.

Full vs. partial tears and healing

Full ACL tears cannot heal on their own. These tears almost always need to be treated surgically, typically using a minimally invasive approach called arthroscopy. While a very few patients may restore some of their lost function without surgery, the knee will remain unstable, and that means the chances of reinjuring it are very high.

Even partial ACL tears may require surgery if the injury involves other ligaments, tendons, or your kneecap. In these cases, surgery can be used to fix multiple problems that could interfere with therapy or wind up causing significant problems later on.

Avoiding surgery

On the other hand, some partial ACL tears may be treated without surgery as long as the tear is relatively minor — and as long as you’re willing to alter your activities to avoid putting too much strain on the joint so you heal properly.

Nonsurgical options like physical therapy and lifestyle modifications may be effective in some men and women who have little to no instability in the joint following an ACL tear, along with those who lead relatively sedentary, inactive lifestyles.

Bottom line: Only a skilled orthopedic doctor can determine when surgery is the better option. Dr. Dickerson discusses all of your options with you so you can make an informed, confident decision about your treatment.

Get help for your knee pain

As major weight-bearing joints in your body, your knees see a lot of wear-and-tear. It’s not surprising that knee pain and weakness are common complaints among both women and men. The key to relieving your symptoms and improving knee movement and flexibility is to get medical care as soon as possible, when symptoms first begin.

As a leading board-certified orthopedic specialist in New Jersey, Dr. Dickerson can help you get the care you need to ensure your knees stay strong and healthy. To learn more about how we treat ACL tears, give us a call at the office convenient to you to schedule an appointment today.

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