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Surgery for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a band of tough, fibrous tissue that stabilizes the knee. Injury to this ligament often occurs when the knee is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This can stretch or tear the ligament, much like the fibers of a rope coming apart. For severe injuries, surgery is often necessary to repair the ligament.

Preparing for Surgery

  • Stop taking aspirin and other medications as advised by your doctor 7 days before surgery.

  • Arrange to get crutches to use during recovery.

  • Don’t eat or drink 10 hours before surgery.

  • Arrange for an adult to drive you home after surgery. 

During Surgery

The most common type of surgery for an ACL injury is reconstruction. This involves replacing the torn ligament with new tissue (a graft). This graft may be a ligament or tendon from your own knee (an autograft) or from a donor (an allograft). To rebuild your ACL, your doctor may combine open surgery with arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, a tiny camera lets your doctor see inside the joint. Tools inserted through small incisions are used to repair the joint.

After Surgery

  • You’ll spend a few hours in a recovery area. You’ll have ice on your knee to prevent swelling, and your leg may be in a brace.

  • Depending on the procedure, physical therapy may begin shortly after surgery. This may include light exercises. In some cases, you may use a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine for a time. This machine flexes and extends the knee, keeping it from getting stiff.

  • You can usually go home the same day as surgery. Have an adult family member or friend give you a ride.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barrus, Bryan, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Mitchell, Bryan Sean, MD
Last Review Date: 2/27/2012
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