Treatment of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
You’ll usually need to go to A&E with this kind of injury. You may then be referred to an acute knee clinic, which will organise any investigations and treatment you need.
The treatment you’re offered for your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury will depend on how severe the damage is and how active you normally are. The initial treatment will be to control your pain and swelling using the POLICE and HARM self help measures. Details of these can be found on the next tab. Further treatments include physiotherapy, medicines and surgery.
You may see an orthopaedic surgeon (a doctor who specialises in bone surgery) or a sports medicine professional, such as a sports doctor or physiotherapist. A physiotherapist is a health professional who specialises in maintaining and improving movement and function. There are different treatments that your doctor or physiotherapist may suggest, and a lot that you can do yourself to help your recovery.
Self-help for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
At first you should follow the POLICE procedure to manage any type of soft tissue injury to your knee. POLICE stands for Protect, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
There are certain things you should not do in the first three days after your injury so you don’t damage your knee further. These can be remembered as HARM, which stands for Heat, Alcohol, Running and Massage.
If you’re having difficulty bearing weight on your knee, you may need to use crutches or wear a brace to support you for a while.
Medicines for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to treat mild to moderate pain. Your doctor may be able to prescribe you stronger painkillers if your pain is severe. As well as easing your pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may help to reduce inflammation and swelling. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine, and if you have questions ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.
Physiotherapy for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
Making sure you follow any physiotherapy and rehabilitation programme you’re given will be an important part of your recovery. The aim of physiotherapy is to help your knee recover its full range of movement, its strength and stability, and return to normal function. Your physiotherapist will carefully assess your knee and then plan a programme of rehabilitation exercises to suit your individual needs. The physiotherapy programme will be designed to give you the best chance of returning to your usual activity.
Surgery for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
Surgery may be the best option to repair the injury if you have high activity levels or are in a physically demanding job. For instance:
- you’re a professional or high-level athlete
- you have a job where you do a lot of heavy manual labour, or where knee stability is vitally important, such as in the construction industry or military
Some people still prefer to give rehabilitation with physiotherapy a try first. Either way, your doctor probably won’t recommend that you have surgery right away after your injury. It’s usually best to wait at least one or two weeks, to allow the swelling in your knee to reduce first.
It usually takes between six and 12 months for you to return to full activity after surgery. And you’ll need to be prepared to undergo an intense and lengthy period of physiotherapy after your operation. Ask your doctor about the pros and cons of surgery, and how it might help in your own circumstances.