Staying active despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament

What is a torn anterior cruciate ligament?

The knee is a joint consisting of three bones: the tibia, the femur and the patella. Between the femur and tibia are two menisci that protect the cartilage of the knee. Several ligaments are located around the knee. Two are inside the joint itself: the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament.

Of the two, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is more frequently injured. Its function is to prevent excessive twisting of the knee, which would eventually dislocate if not held in place.

An ACL tear usually happens during sports like soccer or during sustained effort that requires a sudden change in direction.

The injury is often quite audible, producing a distinctive “pop.” The tear is instantly painful and causes the knee to swell for a fairly long time.

Who is susceptible to a torn anterior cruciate ligament?

Excessive twisting of the knee will cause the ligament to stretch and eventually tear. A torn ACL can occur without contact with an obstacle or another player.

The injury is usually caused by a rapid change in direction after a sudden stop or landing from a jump where the knee doesn’t absorb the shock well.

Athletes who participate in activities like soccer, basketball, football or even skiing are more likely to tear their ACL because of the types of movements they perform in their sport.

What causes the ACL to tear?

Ligaments are rigid bands that connect the bones of a joint. The anterior cruciate ligament crosses the knee to connect the femur to the tibia. It helps stabilize the joint laterally.


Most of the time, ACL tears occur when the pressure on the knee is too great. For example:

  • During a sudden change in direction (left/right)
  • During a sudden stop (forwards/backwards)
  • After pivoting on a foot planted firmly on the ground
  • After poorly landing a jump
  • In response to a direct blow to the knee due to a collision

Symptoms of a torn ACL

Signs that you have a torn ACL include:

A sudden pop accompanied by a feeling of dislocation in the knee

Severe pain that prevents you from continuing physical activity

Rapid and noticeable puffiness or swelling of the knee

Loss of joint mobility

A sense of loss of stability during movement

A feeling that the knee may give way under exertion

If you experience symptoms similar to these, it is important to see a doctor or other healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist, immediately.

Solutions for treating a torn ACL

The right diagnosis will ensure the most appropriate treatment of the injury. One possible treatment is surgery to repair the ligament. A stability orthosis is also strongly recommended.


In addition, there are exercise programs that can reduce the symptoms caused by a torn ACL, including:

  • Strengthening exercises for the mid-body, including the hips and lower abdomen. This will reduce pressure on the knees
  • Strengthening exercises for the legs, including the thighs, hamstrings and calves, to better distribute the load
  • Technique exercises to position the legs correctly during a specific move, such as running or jumping
  • Positioning exercises to better perform certain lateral movements

Doing sports with a torn ACL

A sprained or torn ACL doesn’t mean that the knee has lost all stability. The leg muscles also play an important role in knee function. Getting back into shape is a gradual process and will probably require rehabilitation and strengthening exercises. Some sports activities can then be resumed gradually.

Resuming more intense athletic activities without surgery exposes the knee to the risk of a new sprain or an additional injury, such as to the menisci.

In general, activities that are not very demanding on the knee, such as swimming, can be resumed 1 to 2 months after the operation. Active walking and light running can be resumed 4 to 6 months later. Non-contact sports can be resumed 6 to 8 months after surgery. Contact sports require waiting up to 12 months.


Using a stability orthosis

Despite an ACL sprain or tear, your knee can still support your weight. You can walk and put reasonable weight on your leg despite the injury. The sense of imbalance or instability during the stride is due to a loss of ligament stability, but the joint is still functional.

It is considered beneficial to recovery to resume walking and putting weight on your knee when possible and according to your pain tolerance.

Of course, you should support the joint to prevent re-injury. A stability orthosis will help the knee move during light physical activity. It will reduce the risk of further injury. An orthosis should be worn following surgery until the knee heals completely.


A stability orthosis for sports

A knee brace can help you resume physical activity more quickly and safely. Athletes who want to get back to their activity can do so, in moderation, with this additional support.

After ACL surgery, doctors recommend wearing a stability orthosis to allow time for the knee to recover. The recovery period after an operation can be 6 to 12 months, and athletes who want to get back on track will have to wear this type of brace.

Wearing a stability orthosis during sports reduces some risks and helps with healing.

  • It reduces pressure on the more delicate parts of the joint.
  • It limits excessive movement that can cause pain.
  • It allows for a quicker return to fitness by protecting the joint during movement.
  • It can be put on and taken off quickly and worn without much discomfort.

Four benefits of a stability orthosis during sports

Choosing the right stability orthosis

The first step in choosing the right knee brace is to consult a healthcare professional such as an orthotist. They will help you determine:

  • When you should wear an orthosis
  • The severity of the injury
  • Your level of pain tolerance


Orthoses come in different models with different levels of protection and comfort. The information above will help you find the right one for you.

Make an appointment with an orthotist today!