The anterior cruciate ligament is one of two such structures that help support the knee joint. Unfortunately, they are suspect to injury as they come under great stress when the knee is torqued or twisted.
Most footballing injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament occur when the foot is planted and forces are applied to the upper body or the lower leg, forcing the bent knee in the opposite direction to its natural motion.
In severe injuries it's even possible that the anterior cruciate ligament may be totally torn, in which case the knee may become unstable, and the tibia will move forwards of the femur.
Symptoms of this injury include:
- Clicking or popping at the moment of injury
- Pain in the front of the knee
- Swelling due to internal bleeding
The immediate action if you suspect this injury is RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This will reduce the pain and swelling, and is important even if you intend going to a doctor or hospital.
A doctor will make a diagnosis based on examination, mechanism of injury, and any signs of instability in the knee joint - for example, is it possible to move the tibia forward in relation to the femur.
Surgery is not always necessary - it may be that the injury causes so few problems that training and strengthening exercises are sufficient to affect recovery.
Surgery, if required, is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic. The doctor will perform an arthroscopy of the knee, looking for any damage that needs repairing.
You can usually begin walking the day after surgery, but exercise should be limited during the first week after surgery. Even with comprehensive rehabilitation, the earliest return to competitive sport is likely to be at least six months away.