How do You Treat a Partial Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Treatment for a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear often, but not always, involves surgery. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential for stability of the knee joint; when it’s damaged, the knee becomes unsteady. Whether a patient needs surgery depends on how unstable the joint is, the age of the patient, and his or her current fitness level. Conservative treatment, when surgery isn’t needed, involves rest to allow the ACL to heal as well as rehabilitation exercises.

If the ACL has been partially torn, a decision needs to be made as to whether treatment is invasive or conservative. An orthopedic surgeon can help the patient to decide with a variety of different techniques. The primary factor for deciding whether surgery is required is the knee's stability.

The first step in treating a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear is to assess the knee. There are several tests, including the Lachman test and MRI scans, which can provide information about how badly damaged the ACL is. The Lachman test, where the patella is pivoted to check stability, is one of the best ways of diagnosing the problem. Tests such as these can help an orthopedic surgeon to come to a conclusion, but there is always an element of personal opinion involved in the process.


There are a number of other issus to consider when deciding how to treat a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear. If the patient is only involved in light physical activity, ACL reconstruction may be less important. Depending on the circumstances, younger people who follow a rehabilitation program are most likely to be offered surgery. A surgeon might also recommend an exploratory arthroscopy to check the damage to the ACL before the reconstruction takes place.

If a surgeon decides that a patient does not need surgery for a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear, it’s still important to follow a conservative treatment program. Rest, ice, and compression are initially important to reduce swelling. A physiotherapist may also provide a series of strengthening exercise for the muscles surrounding the knee because this can help to limit the force transmitted through the joint.

The reason that surgery for a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear is avoided when possible is due to the risks associated with the procedure. Recovery from ACL reconstruction surgery can take a long time, and there are a number of other risks. Even so, if the knee is highly unstable, surgery may be the only option. Before the operation is performed, it’s important for the patient to get the knee as strong as possible — without making the condition worse — because this can minimize recovery time.


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