An Injury to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in the Knee

An ACL tear is an injury that occurs when the anterior cruciate ligament in your knee is stretched too far or torn. Located in the middle of the knee, the ACL is one of the four main ligaments (strong but flexible connective tissues) in the knee that connects the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). Its job is to keep the tibia from moving out in front of the femur and help the knee stay stable when you turn.

Skiers and athletes who play soccer, football and basketball are especially vulnerable to ACL tears. You may experience an ACL tear during a sport or other activity if you:

  • Stop moving abruptly
  • Change direction too quickly
  • Land incorrectly from a jump
  • Get hit in the knee

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of an ACL tear include pain and swelling of the knee. Your knee may have made a popping sound and “given out” at the time of injury. The pain and swelling may go away when you rest but then return when you’re active. You may also notice a loss in range of motion and an unstable feeling in the knee.

ACL tears should be quickly evaluated by an orthopaedic and sports medicine specialist – even if the pain and swelling go away with rest. Without proper evaluation, your knee may become further damaged. To diagnose your injury, your doctor will perform a physical exam. He or she may also complete an MRI test to see the inside of your knee.

Athletes and active individuals will often elect to have surgery (surgery is elective and depends on what activities the patient wishes to participate in) after an ACL injury in order to return to their sports and activities. Recovery from surgery can take six months or longer. If you’re not an athlete and your injury is mild, you may be able to return to your normal daily routine without surgery – though your doctor may recommend using a brace and/or crutches and doing physical therapy to protect and strengthen your knee.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Coordinated, Specialized Care Through a Dedicated Institute

Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

Confidence in Treatment Through Education

We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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