Physical Stress
June 17, 2024

ACL Recovery Without Surgery: Is it Possible?

Person Feeling Pain in the Knee

If you’ve recently suffered an ACL tear, you may be wondering if you can recover without undergoing surgery. While surgery is the most common and effective way to treat a torn ACL, is it possible to fully recover from an ACL tear without surgery? Let's take a closer look.

What is an ACL Tear? 

The ACL is a ligament that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, providing stability and support to the knee joint. An ACL tear occurs when the ligament is stretched or torn. ACL tears can be caused by a traumatic event, such as a sudden twist or change in direction, or they can result from repetitive stress or wear and tear over time.

Understanding the Types and Severity of ACL Injuries

The amount of damage to the ligament and instability in the knee joint determines the severity of an ACL injury. For example, if the ligament is torn partially, the patient may be able to walk without crutches or brace support. On the other hand, a full tear can result in the patient being unable to bear weight on the affected knee and may require surgery to repair the ligament. 

A doctor may use imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to determine the severity of an ACL injury. The doctor may also perform physical tests to assess the range of motion in the joint. Based on this information, the doctor can determine the best course of treatment, which may include rest, physical therapy, or surgery.

ACL Tear Recovery with Surgery

For more severe ACL injuries, surgery may be recommended. Surgery aims to reconstruct the ACL and restore stability to the knee joint. Surgery involves removing the damaged ligament and replacing it with a tendon from another part of the body or a donor. Surgery is usually followed by a rehabilitation program to restore strength and range of motion to the knee. 

ACL Tear Recovery Without Surgery

For milder ACL injuries, surgery may not be necessary. Non-surgical treatment options may include the following:

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE)

RICE is a method to reduce swelling and pain in the knee after an ACL tear. Resting the knee and avoiding activities that cause pain is essential to allow the injury to heal. Applying ice to the knee can also help reduce inflammation and pain. Compression with a knee brace or wrap can help to support the knee and reduce swelling. Elevating the knee above the heart can also help to reduce swelling.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help improve the knee's strength and flexibility after an ACL tear. A physical therapist can design an exercise program that includes exercises to improve range of motion, muscle strength, and balance. This can help improve the knee's overall function and reduce re-injury risk.

Anti-Inflammatory Medication

Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, can be used to reduce pain and inflammation in the knee. These medications can be taken orally or applied topically to the knee. They are generally considered safe and can be an effective way to manage pain and inflammation in the short-term.

It's important to note that a full recovery without surgery is not always possible and the decision of whether to undergo surgery or not should be made in consultation with a medical professional. Non-surgical treatment for ACL tears may not be as effective in returning the knee to full function and activity as surgery.

ACL Tear Recovery Time Without Surgery

The recovery time for an ACL tear without surgery can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the individual's overall health. A non-surgical ACL recovery can generally take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Physical therapy is typically recommended to help improve the knee's strength and range of motion. It's also important to avoid activities that may put stress on the knee during the healing process. Surgery may be considered if there is no improvement in symptoms after 6 months.

Chiropractic Care for ACL Tears 

Chiropractic care can also be beneficial for ACL tears. Chiropractors can help reduce pain and inflammation, improve the range of motion, and help strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the knee. They can also guide how to manage the injury best and prevent future injury.  

Final Thoughts

A torn ACL is a severe injury that requires prompt medical attention. For milder injuries, recovery is possible without surgery with the right treatment and rehabilitation. Surgery may be recommended for more severe injuries. In any case, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions and to seek help from a chiropractor or physical therapist if needed. With the right care, recovery from an ACL tear without surgery is possible.


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  2. Kim, D., Cho, M., Park, Y., & Yang, Y. (2015). Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(6), 1791-1794.
  3. Bayattork, M., Sköld, M. B., Sundstrup, E., & Andersen, L. L. (2020). Exercise interventions to improve postural malalignments in head, neck, and trunk among adolescents, adults, and older people: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 16(1), 36-48.

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