Knee joint surgery involves the repair of the area where the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) are joined by the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). While the LCL and MCL direct lateral movements from the sides of your knee, vertical motion is guided from inside your knee by the ACL. Injuries to your ACL and other knee ligaments can occur through sports, occupational or other activities and are commonly indicated by a loud popping noise and sudden weakness, limited functionality, severe pain, sensitivity, and swelling in the affected area. Nearby areas are often impacted by such injuries, including the knee’s cartilage and meniscus.

Although the damaged area will never completely heal, some with knee ligament injuries, particularly those who are older and less active, may opt to forgo surgery. Additionally, MCL and LCL damage generally can be treated non-surgically through standard rest, ice, compression, elevation and bracing techniques, along with anti-inflammatory medications to control swelling and physical therapy to assist with restoring knee stability, strength and function. However, damage to your ACL must be repaired through reconstructive methods in order to achieve full recovery of the affected area (once swelling in the area has sufficiently declined to ensure an appropriate range of motion and avoid joint scarring that would hinder knee mobility).

During ACL surgery, arthroscopic technology is used to allow providers to review and diagnose the inner portions of the damaged knee and evaluate various surgical methods. Because ACL tears cannot be repaired via suturing and must instead be reconstructed via tissue grafting from another part of your body, such as your hamstring, patellar tendon, quadriceps tendon, or from a human donor (cadaver). After several small incisions are made, a high-definition camera called an arthroscope is inserted into the operating area to provide your surgeon with images of the injured joint. This method helps reduce the invasiveness, pain and hospital and recovery times associated with other types of surgery.

Did You Know? As one of the most frequently injured knee ligaments, with an estimated 200,000 annual injuries and 100,000 annual reconstructions, the ACL is most at risk for damage among people playing basketball, football, and other high-impact sports.

With consistent and intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation and adherence to incision hygiene instructions, patients usually recover from reconstructive ACL surgery after six or more months and from non-reconstructive procedures within eight weeks, however the nature of the injury that prompted the surgery will impact these timeframes for each patient. Recovering patients can engage in low-impact activities with the approval of their providers, but must avoid over-exertion, which can result in irreparable knee injury. Any post-surgical physical activity should be avoided until you can walk, run, jump and bend and straighten your knee without pain or swelling and until your reconstructed knee and other knee have equal strength.