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Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury, Ambulatory Care

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

Seek care immediately for any of the following symptoms:

  • Cold or numb toes
  • Weak or unstable knee
  • Increased pain, even after you take your pain medicine
  • Increased swelling

Treatment for an ACL injury

may include any of the following:

  • Support devices such as a knee brace may be used to limit your movement and protect your knee. You may need to use crutches to help decrease your pain as you move around.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
  • 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 you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Surgery may be needed if you have an ACL tear or damage to other knee ligaments.

Manage your ACL injury:

  • Rest your joint so that it can heal. Return to normal activities as directed.
  • Ice helps 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 and place it on your injured ligament for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Use the ice for as long as directed.
  • Compression provides support and helps decrease swelling and movement so your joint can heal. Ask your healthcare provider if you should wrap an elastic bandage around your injured ligament.
  • Elevate your injured area raised above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease or limit swelling. Elevate the injured area by resting it on pillows.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

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

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.

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