Kellie K. Middleton, MD

Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

May 02, 2024
Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?
When you tear your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), you worry and wonder about what to do. Do you have to give up your sport? Undergo surgery? Or is rest enough to let the ACL heal on its own? Maybe. But probably not.

Knee pain is common in athletes and nonathletes alike. Not only do our knees have to bear our considerable weight as we walk, run, and jump, but we also tend to twist it in odd directions, sit so that our knees are under stress, and otherwise maltreat this most important joint.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most common source of knee pain. Each year, about 3,500 women, men, and kids in the United States tear their ACL.

Minor tears in young, healthy people may heal on their own with rest. However, with more severe tears or tears in older adults, an ACL may need more than TLC.

Kellie K. Middleton, MD, an orthopedic expert in Lawrenceville, Georgia, has diagnosed and treated many ACL tears in her practice. Whether you’re an athlete or not, her goal is to help your ACL so you can return to life (or play) as usual.

Will your ACL heal on its own? The following brief helps predict your path.

Are you an athlete?

If you’re an athlete, you’re probably out of luck in the self-healing department. Traditionally, it was thought that ACLs could never heal on their own because the ligament lacks its own blood supply.

However, the British Journal of Sports Medicine recently reported that some ACL tears healed with rest, care, and rehab alone. The subjects were healthy young women and men aged 18-35. Although they were active people, they weren’t athletes.

In addition, among people who’ve healed their own ACLs, about half eventually need surgery. If you’re an athlete, you don’t have time to “wait and see.” You need to recover now.

TLC is never enough

Even if you’re not an athlete and are healthy and young, you might have noticed that rest alone wasn’t enough to heal the ACL in the British study. All participants also took self-care measures and underwent physical rehabilitation.

Dr. Middleton prescribes physical therapy (PT) for most sports and non-sports injuries. Not only does PT help you recover, but it also lessens the chances of re-injury through strengthening and stretching.

You may need surgery

As a former athlete herself, Dr. Middleton understands how essential a functioning, non-painful knee joint is. She also knows that the best approach to any physical problem is the least invasive possible.

When you tear your ACL, she examines your knee thoroughly. She orders imaging studies that let her see inside your knee to assess the damage to the ACL.

If the tear is only partial or minor, she may be able to repair the ACL with minimally invasive surgery. If the ACL is completely torn in half, she has to take a tendon graft from elsewhere in your body or use a donated graft to replace the damaged ACL.

In 65% of cases, athletes undergoing ACL repair and rehab can return to professional play. That’s your goal, and Dr. Middleton’s, too.

You get extra support

Dr. Middleton is also a firm believer in the human body’s own healing processes. Some of the most cutting-edge therapies she offers in her clinic draw on these therapies and supercharge them through concentration or donated cells.

If you undergo surgery or need help healing, she may recommend platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which supply the ACL with extra growth factors and proteins taken from your own blood. She may also adviseReNu® stem cell therapy, which is made from donated tissue that helps your body repair itself.

Do you have knee pain due to an ACL tear? Find out how to best restore your knee to be fully functional and pain-free by contacting us today by phone or online.