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Care and Treatment for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries

Why Choose Treatment for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries at University of Colorado Hospital?

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At University of Colorado Hospital, our doctors are specially trained in diagnosing and treating injuries that are common to athletes of all ages and skill levels.

We also offer sports medicine services specifically for active women - we're one of the few hospitals in the country to do so.

What is an ACL Injury?

In the U.S. around 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears occur every year.

If you suddenly and sharply twist your knee, you can sprain or tear the ACL. The injury causes pain and swelling. An unrepaired ACL can allow the shin bone to shift forward, an often painful "popping out" sensation.

A badly torn ACL requires surgery to repair the damage. If the injury is less severe, doctors can treat it with rest, medication and exercise.

Patient Education

Living with an ACL Injury

Your ACL injury may require surgery. Regaining the strength in the affected knee requires both patience and a commitment to recovery. Full recovery may take up to one year. You can expect to participate in formal therapy once or twice a week during the recovery period. However, you will also be given exercises to do on your own. It is important that you do the exercises regularly.


You may experience setbacks during rehabilitation, such as:

  • Prolonged pain
  • Swelling
  • A feeling that your knee is not getting better

If you experience these setbacks, be sure let your doctor know!


Getting a Second Opinion about an ACL Injury

It is important to seek a second opinion if you are not comfortable with the recommended treatment for your ACL injury.


Additional ACL Resources

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

Tests and Treatments

Tests for ACL Injuries


Physical History and Examination. Your doctor will ask what caused your injury. A sudden twist to the knee that causes a pop in the joint and swelling is a good indication of an ACL injury. A physical examination of the knee joint may reveal a “soft end point” that is a sign that solid ligament is missing.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test shows three-dimensional pictures of the ligaments and other tissues in the knee. The MRI confirms an ACL injury.


Treatments for ACL Injuries

If the ACL is stretched or slightly torn, you may be able to heal it without surgery.


Nonsurgical Treatment. Nonsurgical treatment requires:

  • Resting, icing and elevating the knee frequently to reduce swelling
  • Exercising regularly to increase range of motion, strength and flexibility

Your doctor may also ask you to wear a brace to keep the joint from moving while it heals.


Surgical Treatment. A severe tear of the ACL requires surgery. An ACL injury can usually be repaired using arthroscopic surgery, which creates less scarring than open knee surgery.


This arthrosopic approach requires relatively small incisions, through which your doctor inserts instruments to see inside the knee joint and locate the tear. The repair of the joint is made with small tools inserted through the incisions.

Your Medical Team

The doctors and staff at University of Colorado Hospital work together to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate your bone, joint and muscle injuries.


Bone, Joint and Muscle Specialists


  • Family practitioner – A doctor who provides medical care to individuals and families.
  • Orthopedic surgeon – A doctor who treats injuries and diseases of the bones, joints and muscles.
  • Physiatrist – A doctor who diagnoses and rehabilitates physical injuries.
  • Nutritionist – A specialist in the treatment and prevention of disease through proper diet.
  • Physical therapist – A specialist who treats diseases through exercise, massage, water, light and heat.
  • Sports psychologist – A psychologist who specializes in the mental aspects of sports activities, exercise and other physical activities.

Other Bone, Joint and Muscle Staff


  • Athletic trainer – A provider who helps to prevent and treat injuries.

ACL Research

Research at University of Colorado Hospital focuses on improving treatment and improving outcomes of ACL injuries.

ACL Research Trials

University of Colorado Hospital is part of the Multicenter Orthopedic Outcomes Network (MOON). The network collects data on ACL injuries. The goal of the MOON research is to identify risk factors that may affect the outcomes of ACL surgery and recovery.

Contact: Paula Langner, (303) 441-2175 
Sponsor: National Institutes of Health