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Chronic ACL Deficiency

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury can involve a small or medium tear of the ligament, a complete tear of the ligament (rupture), a separation of the ligament from the upper or lower leg bone (avulsion), or a separation of the ligament and part of the bone from the rest of the bone (avulsion fracture). When any of these occur, the lower leg bone may move abnormally on the upper bone, with a sense of the knee giving out.

An ACL injury may develop into chronic (long-lasting and recurrent) ACL deficiency. The ability of the ACL to control knee movement decreases, resulting in more sliding of the bones. The knee becomes more and more unstable—it begins to buckle or give out, sometimes with pain and swelling. This can result in further injury, loss of strength (weakness), and instability. This abnormal knee motion also can damage cartilage and trap and damage the pads that cushion the knee joints (menisci) and can lead to premature osteoarthritis.

ACL surgery is often done for chronic ACL deficiency, unless the knee is so damaged that surgery won't help. When possible, starting a rehabilitation (rehab) program before surgery can help speed rehab after surgery.

If you have chronic ACL deficiency and you are willing and able to stop activities that require a lot of knee stability, rehab may make your knee stable enough to do daily activities, and you may not need surgery.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Freddie H. Fu, MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Last Revised April 5, 2012

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