I’ve injured my ACL – do I need surgery?

An ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear or partial tear is a common sports or work injury. In fact, you’ve probably heard of professional athletes undergoing a knee reconstruction for an ACL injury, particularly in sports like football and basketball.

Unlike many other common injuries, the ACL does not repair itself. While the pain and swelling will likely ease on their own, an ACL injury can cause your knee to feel unstable over the long term. You will need to undergo some form of treatment to help your ACL rehabilitate.

There are usually two treatment options available for an ACL injury:

Rest and physiotherapy

Depending on your age, the work you perform and the sport activities you participate in, physiotherapy may be all you need to get your knee moving and get you back to doing some of your previous activities.

You will need to follow a highly structured rehabilitation program involving balance, coordination and knee strengthening exercises.

As your ACL cannot repair itself, you may still experience instability and some pain in your knee which will restrict you from returning to some of your previous activities, particularly the sport or work that caused you to become injured in the first place.


For many people, particularly those who live active lifestyles, surgery is the best option. An ACL reconstruction or knee reconstruction can restore the full functionality you previously enjoyed.

Your surgeon will use a tissue called a graft to replace your ACL ligament during surgery. This is commonly taken from the hamstring tendons from the back of your leg. An ACL reconstruction is performed as arthroscopic or keyhole surgery under general aesthetic.

This is a very common surgical procedure in Australia and, thanks to advancements in techniques and technologies, is less painful and involves a shorter recovery time than in the past.

Surgery with rehabilitation offers the best chance for making your knee stable again, allowing you to return to doing the things you love.

Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment option for you and this will largely come down to your age, activity level and the sport and work demands your knee will undergo in the future.

As one of the top Orthopaedic Surgeons in Newcastle and the Hunter, Dr Stuart MacKenzie has a range of guidebooks on hip, knee and ACL surgery to answer your questions and assist you in making the right decisions. 

1 Mar 2018

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