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ACL Injury in Children


An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury

is a partial or complete tear of the ACL. The ACL is a ligament in your knee that connects the tibia (shin bone) to the femur (thigh bone). Ligaments are strong tissues that connect bones together. The ACL stops the tibia from sliding too far forward and keeps the knee stable.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • A pop, snap, or tear when your ACL is injured
  • Sudden swelling or pain in your knee
  • The knee gives way
  • A change in the way you walk, such as with stiff legs
  • Trouble putting weight on your leg or straightening the knee

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child's toes are cold or numb.
  • Your child's knee becomes more weak or unstable.
  • Your child's pain has increased or returned, even after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child's swelling has increased or returned.
  • Your child's symptoms are not getting better.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Treatment for an ACL injury

may include any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given if other pain medicines do not work. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you give your child this medicine. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely.
  • Surgery may be needed if your child has an ACL tear or damage to other knee ligaments.

Manage your child's ACL injury:

  • Have your child rest the joint so that it can heal. Ask your child's healthcare provider when he or she can return to normal activities. Your child may not be able to play certain sports until the injury heals. Work with your healthcare providers and school officials to plan a safe return to competitive sports.
  • Apply ice to help decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel before you place it on your child's injured ligament. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Apply compression to help provide support and decrease swelling and movement so your child's joint can heal. Ask your child's healthcare provider if you should wrap an elastic bandage around the injured ligament.
  • Elevate your child's injured joint above the level of your child's heart as often as you can. This will help decrease or limit swelling. Elevate the injured area by resting it on pillows.
  • Have your child use support devices as directed. A knee brace may be used to limit movement and protect your child's knee. Your child may need to use crutches to help decrease pain as he or she moves around.
  • Take your child to physical therapy if directed. Physical therapy may be used to teach your child exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. The exercises can also help increase the range of motion in your child's knee.

Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.