The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the back of the thighbone (femur, in the upper leg) to the front of the shinbone (tibia, in the lower leg). The ACL plays a major role in providing stability and flexibility to the knee, and it prevents the lower leg from bending forward.
Activity that involves sudden stops or changes of direction, especially while running, can cause a tear in this ligament. A torn ACL is a very common sports injury.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is common in older adults, but it can also occur in a younger person who has suffered an ACL tear. Arthritis happens when the cartilage in a joint is not sufficiently preventing the bones from rubbing together, which can cause pain and the development of bone spurs.
More young people are suffering from ACL tears than in the past due to the increase in participation in sports, like soccer, that involve pivoting and changing direction suddenly. Doctors are frequently seeing young patients with painful, advanced arthritis in the knee, and this is often due to a past ACL injury.
Below are some explanations for this trend and ways to minimize the risk:
What Causes Arthritis of the Knee After a Torn ACL?
The exact cause of knee arthritis in people who have had an ACL tear is not yet fully understood. It is only within the past few years that the increased risk was determined by the medical community.
Some of the possibilities that researchers are exploring include the following:
Cartilage may be damaged in ways that doctors cannot distinguish at the time of an injury. Weaknesses in the structure and integrity of injured knee cartilage may progress quickly to lead to the development of arthritis.
Chemicals released by the body when there is increased blood in the knee will cause inflammation. This may cause long-lasting damage to the cartilage.
There have not been any controlled studies on the role of genetics in ACL injuries, but orthopedic surgeons have reported anecdotally that torn ACLs tend to appear among members of the same family. Therefore, if someone in your family has had a torn ACL, you’re more likely to develop it than someone who does not have a family history of this injury. Similarly, the likelihood of developing arthritis also tends to run in families.
Reducing the Risk of Arthritis After an ACL Tear
Prompt and thorough physical therapy following reconstructive surgery to repair an ACL injury may help to prevent or delay the onset of knee arthritis. In the past, physical therapy ended when the knee regained stability but before full range of motion was attained; evidence now suggests that patients who continue their rehabilitation until the knee’s full range of motion is restored are much less likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Advances in surgical techniques that result in the knee looking and working more like it did before the injury may also reduce the risk. The medical field continues to watch and learn from patients’ outcomes.
Sports Medicine Doctors in South Florida
The medical team at Total Orthopaedic Care offers comprehensive care for every kind of musculoskeletal injury, including ACL tears. If you have pain in your joints, muscles, or bones, our board-certified orthopedic surgeons can help.
We have convenient locations in Pembroke Pines and Lauderdale Lakes. Call us today at (954) 735-3535 or fill out our appointment request form online. We offer same-day appointments for urgent injuries, and we look forward to serving you.