What to Do If You Have a Torn ACL

Feb 02, 2024

Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a piece of soft tissue that connects your thighbone to your shinbone at your knee. It plays an essential role in stabilizing your knee joint, and an ACL tear can seriously limit your ability to move around in daily life.

Anyone can suffer an ACL injury, but it’s particularly common among athletes who play high-impact sports. And if you suspect you have a torn ACL, you need to know what to do next.

At Cascade Orthopaedics, our orthopedic physicians offer comprehensive sports medicine care, and we’re here to help. Read on to learn how to recognize the signs of a torn ACL and how to get the treatment you need to start healing. 

Recognizing the symptoms of a torn ACL

A torn ACL requires professional care. The first step is recognizing the symptoms of your injury. ACL injuries vary in severity but often come with symptoms like pain, swelling, and limited mobility.

A sudden and intense pain at the moment of injury is a typical indicator of a torn ACL. Some people hear a popping sound in their knee, too. The pain may be sharp or throbbing, and you might struggle to put weight on the affected leg.

After the moment of injury, you might notice swelling develop around your knee. This swelling typically occurs within hours, and it can persist for days. A torn ACL can also lead to a reduced range of motion in your knee, and you might experience difficulty fully extending or bending your knee. 

A feeling of instability or a sensation that your knee is giving way is another common symptom of a torn ACL. This joint instability can make it hard to walk or participate in activities that require lateral (side-to-side) movement.

Seeking treatment for a torn ACL

If you’ve suffered a knee injury, you need a professional diagnosis. We recommend staying off the affected leg and seeing a doctor as soon as possible following a suspected ACL tear.

Our team at Cascade Orthopaedics specializes in sports medicine and ACL repair, and we’re here to ensure you get the care you need. A few of the most effective treatments for a torn ACL are:

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE)

The RICE method includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Rest is essential to the initial stages of healing, and applying ice can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

While you should stay off your leg as much as possible, using a compression bandage offers extra support for your knee if you have to be up and about. Elevating your leg whenever possible also helps minimize swelling.

Anti-inflammatory medication

If you’re dealing with significant pain and swelling, we may recommend medication to manage your symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be an effective option but follow all package directions carefully.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is a key component of recovering from an ACL injury. Your therapist works with you throughout recovery to strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee, improve your flexibility, and enhance overall stability.

Participating in physical therapy helps accelerate healing, restore normal function to your knee joint, and reduce your risk of future injuries — particularly if you’re an athlete.


Depending on the severity of your injury, we might give you a knee brace. Wearing a knee brace can stabilize your knee and prevent further damage as you reintroduce activities during the healing process.

Surgical intervention

Most people recover from ACL injuries with conservative treatment. But we might recommend surgery if you have a severe tear or you’re an athlete.

ACL reconstruction surgery involves replacing the damaged ligament with a graft. The graft tissue typically comes from your hamstring or patellar tendon. After surgery, you follow a rehabilitation plan that includes physical therapy to promote successful recovery.

Injuries can happen in the blink of an eye, and you should know what to do if you’re hurt. Get the answers you need and a personalized treatment plan to get you back on your feet at Cascade Orthopaedics in Auburn and Bonney Lake, Washington. Request an appointment online or call the office nearest you today.