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Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL)

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL)


Treatment for an ACL tear will vary depending upon the patient’s individual needs. For example, the young athlete involved in agility sports will most likely require surgery to safely return to sports. The less active, usually older, individual may be able to return to a quieter lifestyle without surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatment

A torn ACL will not heal without surgery. However, nonsurgical treatment may be effective for patients who have a low activity level, or whose knees are clinically stable despite have an ACL rupture. If the overall stability of the knee is intact, Mr Slattery may recommend nonsurgical treatment and a dedicated physiotherapy regime to retrain your knee and rehabilitate your muscles.

It is a common misconception that all ACL ruptures require surgery, and there is extensive literature to support initial non-operative management in the majority of isolated injuries.  Many patients can ski, run, play tennis or sports despite being ACL deficient.

Bracing: a brace may be recommended to protect your knee from instability. To further protect your knee, you may be given crutches to help with your balance.  A compression bandage can also be utilised to assist with swelling reduction.

Physiotherapy: As the swelling goes down, a careful rehabilitation program is started. Specific exercises will restore function to your knee and strengthen the leg muscles that support it.  Over a phased process of strength and conditioning, gradual reintroduction of strenuous activity can be undertaken.  If at any stage patients are having symptomatic instability, then surgery needs to be carefully re-evaluated.

Dr Slattery’s Non-Operative Physiotherapy Protocol can be downloaded here: ACL-Non Op Rehabilitation

Despite physiotherapy, some patients’ knees will remain unstable and may require ligament reconstruction.  These will generally present within the first 3 months of the injury, or when sports are resumed.

Surgical Treatment

ACL Reconstruction Most ACL tears cannot be sutured (stitched) back together. To surgically repair the ACL and restore knee stability, the ligament must be reconstructed. Dr Slattery will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft acts as a scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on.

Grafts can be obtained from several sources. Hamstring tendons at the back of the thigh are a common source of grafts, and are routinely used by Dr Slattery for ACL reconstruction.  Other options are the patellar tendon, which runs between the kneecap and the shinbone or the quadriceps tendon, which runs from the kneecap into the thigh.  Additionally, cadaver graft (allograft) and synthetic ligaments (eg LARS™ Ligaments) can be utilised.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all graft sources.

Because graft healing and incorporation takes time, it may be 6-9 months or more before an athlete can return to sports after surgery.

Dr Slattery has had experience treating international elite athletes, AFL footballers  as well as rising stars in various disciplines and will be more than happy to discuss surgical options with you.

For further information on surgery please see: ACL Reconstruction Surgery

Above: Quadriceps exercises, pertubation training and plyometrics are essential for ACL rehabilitation
Above: ACL Reconstruction using Tendon Graft with Button Fixation on Tibia and Femur (Arthrex)


Whether your treatment involves surgery or not, rehabilitation plays a vital role in getting you back to your daily activities.  Mr Slattery has a specialised physiotherapy and rehabilitation program which has been tried and tested to get you back on your feet as soon as possible.

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