Can You Walk With A Completely Torn ACL?

Can-You-Walk-With-A-Completely-Torn-ACL

Walking with a completely torn ACL is certainly realistic for most people  

  • Walking with a completely torn ACL is almost always achievable for most people
  • For most people, the most likely time that walking is impacted is within the first few days after an ACL tear due to the onset of pain and swelling upon injury
  • If you have torn your ACL you should still have strong enough functionally in your knee that enables you to walk
  • Rupturing the ACL will lead to instability in the knee.  The feeling of the knee giving way is most often felt with certain movements that involve sudden changes of direction.
  • When giving way or buckling of the knee occurs this increases the risk of further injury such as damage to the cartilage
  • In most cases movements in straight lines including walking and running are achievable and should not cause further damage
  • These activities can often be performed with relative ease even if you have completely torn your ACL
  • The extent to which walking is impacted by an ACL rupture is often linked to the level of pain and swelling in the knee.  This is most often felt in the first few days after injury
  • In this respect if you have just hurt your knee on the sports field or somehow else and you are showing symptoms of an ACL injury – it is also possible that other areas of your knee have also been injured such as the surrounding cartilage and other ligaments
  • Any other damage to your knee in addition to tearing of the ACL is likely to contribute in vary degrees to pain and swelling in your knee
  • Therefore it is the combination of a torn ACL and any other damage to your bad knee which can impact your ability to walk

Can You Walk With a Torn ACL

Function of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament that is connected

  • The function of the ACL is primarily to provide stability and balance
  • If you don’t have an ACL in place then you may lose the ability to pivot or change direction suddenly. This could be a problem if you intend to engage in intensive physical activity in the future such as sports like football, hockey or tennis
  • There are a number of studies which indicate people have been able to function normally without an ACL and return to sport
  • However, if you unable to twist, turn and pivot this is often a strong indicator of whether or not you have an ACL in place to stabilise your knee for those types of movements.

What are the risks of walking on a completely torn ACL?

  • Walking on a completely torn ACL is normally possible without incurring any further damage to the knee, however it is best to avoid any sudden twisting or pivoting in the knee until you have been fully assessed by a doctor.
  • If you suffer an ACL injury then it is advised to avoid sudden twisting movements which can cause damage to knee cartilage.  Consult your doctor or physio for diagnosis as soon as possible.
  • To properly diagnose the extent of a cruciate ligament injury the doctor may wait for the swelling to subside before taking conclusive scans or carrying out tests.
  • This is to ensure that the test results are as accurate as possible and not blurred by a knee filled with blood and swelling.

Walking limitations after completely tearing the ACL

  • Sometimes it can be difficult to walk following an ACL injury as you may have stiffness or swelling which limits your legs flexibility and range of motion.
  • Approximately 80% of ACL injuries result in significant bone bruising which necessitates minimal weight bearing in the first instance.  To reduce swelling apply of ice for 15 to 20 minutes 4 to 5 times a day
  • The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding forward over the femur and provides stability for pivoting and twisting movements.
  • So whilst you can walk with a completely ACL, sports that require sudden changes of direction such as football, basketball, or hockey may result in the knee giving out or buckling.

What can you do to improve walking with a completely torn ACL

  • You can look at using crutches to support your knee until the swelling is reduced and knee flexibility has returned
  • ACL recovery protocols including No HARM and RICER should begin immediately after the injury event to limit further swelling and bleeding in your knee and to help improve flexibility
  • Undertake gym and strength work on your knee to build functionality back to pre-injury levels including locking and extending of the knee
  • Another key factor that can impact your walking after tearing the ACL is your tolerance to the rehabilitation process and following the correct protocols
  • Option to have surgery to replace the ACL graft which should be considered and discussed carefully with your surgeon and doctor.  If the decision is made to have surgery, then it is important to prepare your knee with ACL prehab exercises

When can’t you walk with a completely torn ACL

  • In very rare cases a patient may experience immediately after the injury excessive pain or imbalance that prevents them from walking without the assistance of crutches.
  • If the injury has caused other structural knee issues that needs to be assessed by a doctor

If you can walk normally after completely tearing an ACL do you need surgery? 

  • Whether or not your ACL injury requires reconstruction surgery is a personal decision that is based on your requirements going forward
  • Many people choose of course not to have surgery
  • Not having surgery is a real option that should be discussed with your surgeon

Can you walk with a partially torn ACL – what is the difference?

  • In terms of your ability to walk after an ACL tear, you should be able to walk and run in straight lines after an ACL injury regardless of whether or not you have completely or partially torn your ACL.
  • However there may be a noticeable difference in your ability to pivot or turn suddenly in the injured knee.
  • With a completely torn ACL, turning or twisting can be much more difficult and you may experience a giving way or buckling sensation.
  • If the ACL is partially intact then it is possible that the ACL will continue to perform its role and provide stability and balance to the knee under the stress of twisting motions.
  • However, a partially torn ACL which has been weakened and no longer at full strength may be at a greater risk of tearing further especially when under high intensity physical load.

What to do if you tear your ACL?

  • Upon injury of an anterior cruciate ligament, a common tear symptom is the accumulation of excess blood swelling to your knee which will limit functionality.  As discussed above, you should consult your doctor immediately.
  • It is important to follow proper injury management protocols that aim to actively reduce blood swelling (RICER) and avoid activities which can cause further aggregation and inflammation to the knee (No HARM)

No HARM to help recovery after a complete ACL tear

  • The no HARM principles are essentially about avoiding activities that can cause an increase in blood swelling to an injured body part.
  • In that respect if you have suffered a knee injury or ACL rupture than it is important to implement No HARM in particularly within the first 48 to 72 hours after incurring the injury.
  • No HARM principles for injury treatment essentially refer to the avoidance of Heat, Alcohol, Running and Massage within the first few days to avoid dilation of blood vessels to the injured area which can be detrimental to the repair process.

Heat: avoid application of heat packs, saunas and heated swimming pools.

Alcohol: avoid drinking alcohol after an injury as the substance can cause inflammation and blood swelling within injured areas of the body

Running/exercise: avoid any strenuous running or placing excess strain on your knee exercise such as running or gym work on your bad leg

Massage: if applied directly to your injured knee, massage can cause an increase in blood flow and swelling to the injured area which should be avoided for at least the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury event

RICER to help you reduce swelling and control pain after an ACL tear

  • RICER principles essentially refer to the active reduction of blood flow and swelling to the injured body part and is highly effective within the early onset of an ACL tear (especially within the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury).
  • In the first few days after tearing your ACL it is important that you take care of yourself by reducing swelling and controlling your pain through Rest, Ice Compression and Elevation.
  • In the event that you have surgery continue to implement RICER in the early to intermediate stages of your ACL recovery timeline.

Rest: limit any sudden movements or twisting. You should basically be resting at home after the first day or two after tearing your ACL by keeping the knee as elevated as much as possible.

Rest is required to reduce the metabolic demands of the injured tissue and to avoid activities that cause stress on the injured area.  Rest immediately after an ACL tear is also needed to avoid disrupting the early phases of the repair process.

Ice: regular icing is a key component to reduce knee swelling, An ice pack should be applied to the knee for 20 minutes every one to two hours within the first 48 to 72 hours after tearing the ACL.  Icing also helps to alleviate pain caused by the injury.

Ice is used to cool and reduce the temperature of the tissue in the injured area, reduce metabolic demand and limit the bleeding.

Compression: wearing a compression bandage or sleeve is also another key component to controlling and reducing knee swelling.

Compression helps limit oozing of fluids from the damaged capillaries into the tissue and controlling the inflammatory process.

Elevation: Keep you knee elevated as much as you can by lying on the floor/couch/bed with sufficient support under the knee such as a towel or pillow.

Elevation of the knee lowers pressure in the local blood vessels and reduce bleeding in the injured area.  It also helps to drain excess fluids and inflammation.

Referral: upon the onset of a sports injuring whether or not it be in relation to the ACL knee or another part of the body, it is very important to see a physician to assist with performing a diagnosis of the injury and to help guide you through your next steps of recovery.

Video – Can you walk with a completely torn ACL

Are you feeling challenged by your ACL recovery?

As a helpful guide we have put together this simple yet remarkably effective ACL Recovery Guide with 5 key phases that could help you plan and keep your ACL recovery on track and achieve your ACL rehabilitation goals.

About Brett Mitchell

Our missions is to provide ACL Knee Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation information to improve the health and wellbeing of people who have injured their Anterior Cruciate Ligament and have undergone surgery or are considering their options to increasing the functionality of their injured ACL knee. The information on our site aims to help people understand and manage their ACL knee injury. It does not replace care provided by medical practitioners and other qualified health professionals.

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Disclaimer – The information provided on this Site is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but no warranty as to the accuracy is given and each individual should not act on the basis of its contents whilst interpreting the materials without seeking assistance from a medical or healthcare professional to apply them to your individual circumstances. The information on this site is for information purposes only. If you have any concerns about your health, consult your general practitioner.