The anterior cruciate ligament, also referred to as the ACL, is one of four main ligaments within the structure of the knee that connects the femur to the tibia. The anterior cruciate ligament is a thick band of tissue that aides in stabilizing the knee joint. The ACL can be injured when the knee is twisted or hyperextended. Stopping suddenly, switching directions quickly, improperly slowing down while running, collision, and landing from a jump are some examples of ways that a person can damage the ACL. Injuries to the ACL can also occur without contact from another person and happen most often in sports such as basketball, soccer and gymnastics.
ACL injuries are more frequently seen in women than in men. It is believed that the anatomy of women’s hips and legs may make women more susceptible to ACL injuries than men. Women have wider hips than men which increases the angle at which the femur connects to the tibia at the knee joint. This can result in increased stress placed on the ACL during movement. Other anatomical differences in the anatomy of women may also be a contributing factor in women being placed at greater risks of ACL injuries than men. Women tend to have more flexible joints and weaker muscles than men and the area around the ACL in women is tighter, limiting the space for unimpeded ACL movement. It is believed the subtle differences in movement between men and women may also contribute to the higher occurrence of ACL injuries in women. Historically men begin participating in sports at younger ages than women, allowing for the body to condition itself for the stresses involved in activities such as jumping, cutting and pivoting. Studies have shown ACL injuries in female athletes can be diminished by improving the strength of the muscles of the lower extremities, improving balance and jump landing, and by learning proper techniques for cutting and running.
Symptoms of ACL injuries include pain and swelling, decreased range of motion and discomfort with movement. ACL injuries will be diagnosed through physical examination and MRI. Surgery is the only way to “heal” the ACL and can be done arthroscopically. It may include reconstruction of the ligament. Post-surgical treatment includes rehabilitative therapy, including physical therapy.