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ACL Tears: What They Are, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & More

Feel like or know you've suffered ACL tears, or just want to learn more about them?

Female athlete suffering from knee injury and wearing brace after ACL tears

ACL tears are a common knee injury that many athletes and those involved with intense physical activities find themselves having to deal with.

According to Cleveland Clinic, 100,000-200,000 people report ACL tears or injuries each year in the United States alone.

ACL tears are often quite serious injuries that take you out of physical activity and training for several weeks and months.

If you think or know you've suffered an ACL tear, or you're just curious to learn a little more about them you've come to the right place.

Let's get started.

What Are ACL Tears and Injuries?

The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is a strong band of tissue located in the center of your knee that helps to connect the femur (your thigh bone) to the tibia (your shin bone).

ACL tears and injuries come in different grades and levels of severity.

  • Grade One - This is where the ACL has been overstretched, causing you some pain and discomfort. However it should still be able to do its basic function.

  • Grade Two - The ACL has been partially torn, once again from being overstretched and slightly loosening up. (Thinks of a rubber band, and how it might start to tear a little on the sides if you start to stretch it apart).

  • Grade Three - This is the most severe type of ACL injury, where the bands have completely torn apart and separated into two or more pieces. (Think of the rubber band breaking apart once you stretch it out enough).

Depending on the severity of your ACL tear, you may find that your ability to walk and perform basic everyday movements is hindered.

Like I mentioned earlier, ACL tears are quite serious injuries and you should seek medical attention if you are concerned.

The Causes of ACL Tears

ACL tears most commonly occur in sports and physical activities, and happen when sudden stops or changes in movement/direction occur.

For example, if you're sprinting at full speed and suddenly decide to change a direction and try to turn 180 degrees, you could put yourself at risk of an ACL tear.

Fit and athletic woman sprinting at max speed on track

ACL tears and injuries can also be caused by major impacts and heavy contact, such as colliding into someone in a game of rugby or being kicked in the knee during an MMA fight.

Basically, ACL tears are caused by placing too much sudden stress on the knees, or receiving a direct blow to the joints.

Here are some other examples of scenarios that could result in ACL tears or injuries:

  • If you suddenly stop running fast/sprinting.

  • Jumping from a high spot and land awkwardly or poorly.

  • If you fall and hit your knee(s) really hard.

  • Trying to lift weights that you simply aren't yet strong enough to handle. (Squats, deadlift, leg presses, etc.).

Symptoms of ACL Tears and Injuries

Most of the time, you'll know right away when you injure yourself in the ACL.

You might not immediately know that you've injured your ACL specifically, but you'll be able to tell that you hurt yourself.

A Popping Noise

Most of the time, as soon as people injure their ACLs they hear a popping noise coming from their knees, or feel like there are popping sensations/feelings happening in their knee joints.

Pain or Discomfort

Another obvious sign of ACL tears or injuries would be noticeable pain or discomfort in your knee joints, or around that area.

Severe injuries like this are going to cause you some pain, and you should gauge the severity of this pain to decide on your next steps to recovery.

On top of this you might also notice some swelling in your knee areas, causing the skin to look stretched and possibly a little shiny under the light as well.

Limited Range of Motion in Your Knees

Child getting knee physiotherapy after suffering ACL tears

If you find that you aren't able to move your knees normally (either due to pain or you just physically can't), then it's likely that you've injured your ACL in some way.

You might find it tough to walk, tough to straighten your legs and tough to do anything with them really.

Again, the severity of this could serve as an indicator of the seriousness of your ACL tear or injury.

Instability in the Knees and Loss of Strength

If you find that placing weight (of any kind including your own bodyweight) causes your knees to feel unstable and causes them to 'give out' or cave in, then it's once again likely an indication of ACL tears or injuries.

If your knees started to wobble under pressure or they simply can't hold themselves in a position whilst bearing weight and simply cave in and bend, then this is very serious and you're likely going to want to go and see a doctor.

To Recap:

The following are signs, indications or symptoms of ACL tears:

  • Popping noises/sensations.

  • Pain or discomfort.

  • Limited/loss of range of motion.

  • Instability or loss of strength in the knees.

So How Do You Treat ACL Tears?

As soon as you think you've injured your ACL, follow the R.I.C.E procedure.

  • Rest your leg.

  • Ice your leg.

  • Compress your leg.

  • Elevate your leg.

This is going to reduce the pain and prevent any further damage from being down to your knees and the rest of your lower body.

Immediately go out and seek professional medical attention.

Do ACL Tears Heal On Their Own?

ACL tears, if torn, do not heal on their own. This is due to a lack of blood supply to the ligaments, meaning it will not heal on its own.

Stretches will likely also require a knee brace, as well as some physical rehabilitation with direction from your doctor.

Surgical treatment is going to be required for athletes wanting to return to physical activities, because the knees are such an important part of the body in functional and everyday movement.

However if you don't intend to return to physical activity, or your levels of activity were relatively low in the first place, then surgical treatment may not be necessary.

You may just end up with some limitations in your movement in the future.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice symptoms of ACL tears, of any kind, you should go and see a doctor.

It's extremely hard for you to gauge the necessary treatment, and it's going to be beneficial for you to go out and seek professional medical advice.

Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you're going to need surgical treatment, they're going to ask you some questions and then they'll work from there.

Some examples of these questions could include:

  • What were you doing at the time of the injury?

  • Which part of the knee is in pain?

  • Has this happened in the past before?

  • Did you hear any popping noises or feel any popping sensations?

Listen to what your doctors say, because they will be the only ones that know your specific situation.

Google doesn't know what your situation looks like.

Only you and your doctor will know.

Doctor analyzing knee for patient with ACL injuries

Future Complications of ACL Tears

Aside from just the symptoms and effects we mentioned above, ACL tears can lead to the following complications:

  • Infections (could happen from any type of surgery).

  • Knee pain.

  • Inability to perform physical tasks for a while after surgery.

  • Growth plate damage (could hinder growth in young athletes).

  • Blood clots.

How Can ACL Tears and Injuries Be Prevented?

ACL tears realistically can't be fully prevented, because they can be caused by so many things.

Especially not if you're an athlete.

However, modifications to your training program can help and make a difference in reducing your chances of suffering from ACL tears.

You should look to be careful in the way that you turn when you run, and the way you jump/land.

Make sure that you're not twisting the knee too quickly, and instead are turning your entire body to take stress away from the knees.

And when you land, always try to land with your knees in line with your toes/feet.

This is going to reduce the impact on the knees by allowing the feet to help absorb more of the force, reducing the sudden impact that your knees face.

Also, always try to be sensible with the intensities that you're training or moving at.

Never try to lift weights that are too heavy and out of your scope.

Never try to run so fast that your technique falls out the window and you hurt yourself.

Never try to jump from such a high spot that you risk placing too much stress on your knees for no good reason.

Learn more:

Women Are More Likely to Suffer ACL Tears

One last piece of information hat we have for you today would be the following:

According to many reputable sources including Yale Medicine, The Mayo Clinic Health System and Cleveland Clinic, women are more susceptible to ACL tears and injuries than men are.

In fact, Yale stated that women are 2 to 8 times more likely to suffer such injuries when compared to men.

Now the reason for this has not yet fully been confirmed by research, but people do suggest that it could be because of the anatomical differences between men and women, and how women have naturally wider pelvis bones, causing more stress to be placed on the lower body joints and muscles.

So when you land from a high jump or immediately stop running in the middle of a sprint, the sheer force on the knees and ACL could become too much to bear.


ACL tears are a very common sports injury, and it's important for you to know what exactly they are, what could cause them, how to identify them and how you should go about treating them.

Remember, we are not your doctors, and you should always follow the orders of YOUR OWN doctor if you have them.

Not us, or other sources on Google.

We hope you've found value in this post, and have been enjoying your time reading through it!

If you have, consider sharing it with a friend so that we can reach more people!

And if you DO have an ACL injury, we wish you well and hope you're able to make a quick recovery!

Have you ever injured your ACL before?


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