Site Map

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury - aftercare

Cruciate ligament injury - aftercare; ACL injury - aftercare; Knee injury - anterior cruciate

I Would Like to Learn About:


A ligament is a band of tissue that connects a bone to another bone. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is located inside your knee joint and connects the bones of your upper and lower leg.

An ACL injury occurs when the ligament is stretched or torn. A partial ACL tear occurs when only part of the ligament is torn. A complete ACL tear occurs when the entire ligament is torn into two pieces.

More About Your Injury

The ACL is one of several ligaments that keep your knee stable. It helps keep your leg bones in place and allows your knee to move back and forth.

An ACL injury can occur if you:

Skiers and people who play basketball, football, or soccer are more likely to have this type of injury. Women are more likely to tear their ACL than men when they participate in sports.

What to Expect

It is common to hear a "popping" sound when an ACL injury occurs. You also may have:

If you have a mild injury, you may notice that your knee feels unstable or seems to "give way" when using it. ACL injuries often occur along with other knee injuries, such as to the cartilage called the meniscus. These injuries may also need to be treated with surgery.

After examining your knee, your doctor may order these imaging tests:

If you have an ACL injury, you may need:

Some people can live and function normally with a torn ACL. However, most people feel like their knee is unstable and may "give out" with more rigorous activities. Most people will have the ACL reconstructed in order to return to their previous activities. Unrepaired ACL tears can lead to further knee damage, especially to the meniscus.

Self-care at Home

Follow R.I.C.E. to help reduce pain and swelling:

You can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps with pain, but not with swelling. You can buy these pain medicines at the store.


After your injury, you should not play sports or do other strenuous activities until you and your doctor decide what treatment is best for you.

If you have surgery to reconstruct your ACL:

If you do not have surgery:

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you have any of the following:

If you have surgery, call your surgeon if you have:


Lamplot JD, Bogunovic L, Wright RW. Revision anterior cruciate ligament injuries. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee, Drez, & Miller's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 99.

Miller RH, Azar FM. Knee Injuries. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 45.

Members of the Writing, Review, and Voting Panels of the AUC on Prevention and Treatment of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries, Quinn RH, Saunders JO, et al. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons appropriate use criteria on the management of anterior cruciate ligament injuries. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2016;98(2):153-155. PMID: 26791036


Review Date: 6/13/2021  

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo
Health Content Provider

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2022 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.