Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a diagonal ligament within the knee that offers rotational stability to the joint. An ACL tear is a major injury that affects the function of your knee. When this painful injury happens, you’re left wondering if your knee will return to its full function, how long the recovery will take, and whether or not you’ll need surgery. In fact, you may be wondering whether professional treatment is even a requirement for an ACL tear.
Your body has remarkable healing capabilities that allow you to recover from an array of musculoskeletal injuries and lose little or no function overall. Some injuries are more extensive and still heal, but you cannot use the injured body part to its full function anymore without additional intervention such as physical therapy.
Here at Rapid City Orthopedics in Rapid City, South Dakota, ACL tear specialist Dr. Joseph Humpherys can evaluate your injury and give you a prognosis. He can tell you how much treatment your ACL tear needs according to your own goals with its recovery.
So, will an ACL tear heal on its own? Here’s what you can expect for your healing:
Conservative treatment may be enough
Partial ACL tears that have not torn the ligament all the way through allow your knee to retain a small amount of stability compared to a full tear. The healing time and required treatments for a partial ACL tear depend on the grade of the sprain:
A grade 1 tear is hardly a tear at all. The ligament is overstretched, but it doesn’t cause your knee to give out under your weight. A grade 1 ACL tear is deceiving because you might assume it doesn’t need treatment, but the ligament’s lack of blood supply inhibits its ability to heal back to its original state without intervention.
A grade 2 ACL tear is a little more severe than a grade 1 tear. In this case, the ligament has torn a little but only partially: It’s still in one piece. Your knee is a bit less stable and may give out during activity. Just like a grade 1 injury, this type may respond to conservative treatments like physical therapy, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, or bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) injections.
It’s possible for a grade 2 ACL tear to heal without surgery as long as you go through guided orthopedic treatment, but if the injury doesn’t respond to conservative care, surgery is the next step. There is a lot of range in the grade 2 category and some grade 2 ACL tears are much more extensive than others.
When surgery is necessary
A complete ACL tear, also called a grade 3 ligament injury, means the ligament has torn all the way through and cannot function at all to stabilize the knee. A complete tear of this ligament almost always needs surgery and will not heal on its own. Without surgery, you can expect permanent instability of the knee.
You will also need to take part in physical therapy and rehabilitation following your surgery for a complete ACL tear. After six or more months of healing and recovery, you may be able to return to your favorite sports and physical activities with full function of your injured knee.
Ready for an ACL tear evaluation?
Without imaging tests and a diagnostic evaluation by an orthopedist, you may not have a reliable gauge of how serious your ACL tear is. To schedule an appointment at Rapid City Orthopedics, call the office or click on the online booking link today.