Torn ACL Injuries: What To Expect


Our knees allow us to do some pretty great things. Without knees, how would we walk, propose to the love of their life, beg for forgiveness, sit ‘criss-cross applesauce’, shoot a three-pointer from 28 feet away, or kick a game-winning field goal?  But, unfortunately, these miracle joints have their weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can make life all the more difficult. Just ask Houston Texans’ TJ Yates or Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback, Orlando Strickland, who couldn’t play their 2015 season because of a torn ACL.

With the end of summer just around the bend, you’re probably preparing for endless weekends of youth gymnastics, soccer, and football. But what parent is ever really prepared for their child to have a serious injury? The reality is that more than 2.6 million kids and teens visit the emergency room for sports-related injuries, and more than 5 million people seek orthopedic assistance for knee injuries each year, according to NIH reports. ACL injuries are common; ACL tears are one of the five most common sports injuries.

What is a Torn ACL and What Can Cause a Torn ACL?

A torn ACL is a second or third degree sprain in the the anterior cruciate ligament, a small structure less than 1.5 inches that passes through the middle of the knee and stabilizes the knee from rotating. Your little athlete can tear or damage this ligament when they suddenly change direction after their foot is planted and their knee is in a locked position. Females are 2 to 8 times more prone to ACL tears due to their estrogen levels. If your child’s quadriceps and hamstrings are weak or imbalanced, or if they are playing on an uneven surface, their risk for a torn ACL goes up. Also, make sure you select the right shoes or cleats for your kiddos to minimize their risk of injury.

What Does a Torn ACL Feel or Look Like?

If your child’s knee feels unstable, like it’s going to buckle when they change direction, it is highly likely they have a torn ACL. Pain varies from person to person, but a torn ACL is usually very painful and your child may have difficulty walking. Listen for a popping sound and watch for swelling in your child’s knee 2-4 hours following the injury. If it begins to swell, go to the hospital or urgent care center for testing. The doctor will drain the knee and check for blood, which serves as an indicator of a torn ACL.

Ask your doctor about the different exercises your child can do for a torn ACL. Healing time is typically 6 months or longer.

Want to learn more about sports-related health topics like CTE, electrolyte imbalance, and how to manage heat exhaustion? Start with our blog.