Athletic Focus: ACL Tears

NFL season is coming up soon and teams are starting to prepare and go through practices! While practices are still non-contact in nature in the early stages, players unfortunately still suffer major injuries that impact their season status. I’m using football as one example but ACL tears quite frankly occur in just about every major sport.

A common injury that occurs during non-contact drills are ACL tears. The ACL is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament. This is located within the knee joint itself and assists in stabilizing the knee and prevents anterior tibial translation on the femur.


This ligament can tear when there is a strong valgus force that occurs at the knee. A valgus force simply means a lateral to medial force. Think of a blow to the knee or a tackle to the outside of the knee.


However, ACL tears can also occur with hyperextension of the knee or with a planted foot while cutting. The planted foot causes the tibia to externally rotate while the femur internally rotates, causing a “twisting” force. With powerful cuts, the ACL could possibly tear. When the ACL does tear people usually hear an “audible” pop and immediately cannot bear any weight through the knee. In addition, when the ACL tears further injury to the MCL (medial collateral ligament) as well as tears within the medial meniscus can occur, also known as the “Terrible Triad”.

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Following the ACL tear there is immediate swelling of the knee and an inability to bend or extend the joint. Once an ACL tear occurs, surgery is usually warranted followed by intensive Physical Therapy. Early stages involve decreasing swelling, pain, improving gait, while restoring normal quad strength. Eventually the patient performs return to sport activities, agility drills, etc.

A big part of physical therapy is getting the athlete or patient to GAIN confidence within the knee. This is one of the hardest things to do for any patient dealing with any type of painful injury. An ACL tear is traumatic, painful, and can KILL an athlete’s confidence. Many athlete’s are never the same after tearing this ligament. So another BIG part of therapy is to give the patient the CONFIDENCE they once had in performing those cuts, sprints, jumps, etc. It’s challenging but so rewarding to see a patient get back to what they LOVE doing!

So there’s a little background on the what exactly an ACL tear is, how it happens, and what physical therapists will work on with the patient!


Dr. Jomar Farrales, PT, DPT




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