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Treating ACL Injuries with Surgery

Your orthopedic specialist may recommend surgery if you want to return to an active or sports-focused lifestyle after an ACL tear.

Most ACL surgeries are not performed immediately unless there are injuries to other parts of your knee that need urgent care. ACL reconstruction is the most common type of surgery that we perform.

Our specialists are also trained in ACL repair surgery (complete tears, but the tissue can be repaired back to bone). However, that surgery is only appropriate for specific cases. You and your orthopedic specialist will talk about the best surgery for your injury. 

Best Candidates for ACL Surgery

The best candidates for ACL reconstruction surgery are active individuals and athletes in good health, who want return to their sport or active lifestyle.

Surgery is usually recommended when:

  • you have a full ACL tear.
  • your knee gives way or feels unstable during daily activities or sports.
  • your knee function has not improved with physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Benefits of Arthroscopic ACL Surgery

football player catching a ball

Arthroscopic ACL reconstruction is a minimally invasive procedure, which means you’ll experience:

  • less pain after surgery,
  • a shorter hospital stay, and
  • a faster recovery.

You might want to consider ACL reconstruction if you want to:

  • return to your sport or recreational activities,
  • regain more comfortable movement,
  • prevent recurrent instability, or
  • avoid reinjury.

ACL Reconstruction Surgery

ACL reconstruction is an outpatient surgery performed by a doctor who specializes in surgical procedures of the bones and joints (orthopedic surgeon). You will receive general anesthesia to put you to sleep right before the surgery. Other types of anesthesia such as a spinal block or epidural may be recommended but are less common.

Most ACL tears cannot be stitched back together using your existing ligament (ACL repair). To fully restore knee function and stability, the ligament is surgically reconstructed. Your surgeon will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft acts as a framework to rebuild a new, healthy ligament.

Tissue grafts can come from several places, such as:

  • your patellar tendon, which runs between the kneecap and the shinbone;
  • your hamstring tendons, which are at the back of the thigh;
  • your quadriceps tendon, which runs from the kneecap into the thigh; or
  • a donor graft (allograft).

You and your surgeon will talk about which graft is best for you.

During the Procedure

ACL reconstruction surgery is performed with an arthroscope (a small flexible tube with a camera on it) inserted in a small incision or cut in your knee.

During surgery, your surgeon will remove the torn ligament and replace it with the graft tissue. The new tissue is attached to your bone with surgical screws or other medical attachment devices. As your body heals, your bone fills in to hold the new ligament in place.

ACL reconstruction surgery takes one to two hours. You will be able to return home the same day.

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How to Prepare for ACL Surgery

Before your surgery, your specialist may recommend several weeks of physical therapy to reduce pain and swelling, restore your knee's full range of motion, and strengthen your muscles.

You may also need to have medical imaging such as an X-ray, MRI scan, or ultrasound of your knee. These imaging tests help our team rule out additional injuries and determine the severity of your ACL tear.

Your surgeon will give you specific instructions to prepare for your ACL surgery.

ACL Surgery Recovery

Most patients go home the same day of surgery. Your surgeon will recommend specific instructions to care for your surgical site, manage your pain with medication, and begin physical therapy/rehabilitation. You may need to wear a knee brace or use crutches for one to four weeks after surgery.

Physical Therapy

You will be able to move your knee and begin limited physical therapy work shortly after surgery. You will undergo physical therapy for four to six months to help you regain your range of motion, strengthen your knee, and increase your activity or sport-specific functionality.

Length of Recovery

You will be able to return to light activity within a few days.  A full return to activities and sports typically takes four to six months. Sports involving quick changes in direction, such as soccer, basketball, and football, may require up to 12 months of rehabilitation.

Follow-Up Care

We will schedule your first follow-up visit 10-12 days after surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon will examine the surgical site and remove any stitches or sutures. Your provider will schedule regular appointments to closely follow your progress as you return to regular activities and sports.

ACL Prevention & Protection Programs

Proper exercise and training can help reduce the risk of an ACL injury. Our team of physical therapists and sports medicine rehabilitation specialists offers assessments and tailored care for your specific injury and/or sport.

Our training programs will help you transition back into a sport after an injury and work with you to avoid future injury.

Common components in these programs include:

  • developing core strength through the hips, pelvis, and abdomen to reduce knee strain during common exercises;
  • increasing leg strength to reduce overcompensation and improve balance; and
  • training for proper technique and knee position during jumping, pivoting, or cutting (quickly changing direction) movements.

ACL Injury Program Benefits

An ACL injury protection and prevention program may help you:

  • identify areas of compensation when your body is out of balance.
  • strengthen areas of weakness with an off-season conditioning program.
  • Improve your movement efficiency by focusing on mobility and stability of muscles and joints.
  • understand the relationship between functional movement and your sport performance

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Bridge Back to Sport Program

We offer a program that promotes safe and effective return to activity for individuals who have undergone ACL surgery.

Learn How to Get Back to Sports


Our sports program helps athletes decrease knee injuries.

View the SportsMetrics Program

How to Make an Appointment with an Orthopedic Specialist

If you have knee pain and would like to see an orthopedic specialist for an evaluation, contact our orthopedic center at 801-587‑7109 to schedule an appointment.

Before visiting our clinic, check with your insurance carrier to verify that care from our clinic is covered under your plan. We accept most insurance plans and most treatment is covered by insurance. However, some insurance plans have specific rules, such as requiring a referral from a primary care provider before seeing a specialist.

You can also get a referral to see one of our specialists from:

Hear From Our Patients

Medical School Student Grateful for Care from Ortho Injury Clinic

Polly Creveling, a third-year medical student at University of Utah, was skiing through two feet of deep, fresh powder when her ski got stuck in the hard snow below. An excruciating pain shot through her knee. She was diagnosed with both a torn ACL and a meniscus tear. With the in-depth comprehensive care she received from the Orthopaedic Injury Clinic and her orthopedic surgery team, she was able to continue her athletic lifestyle and participate in her med school rotations.

Read Polly's Story

Alta ski patrol puts patient Polly Creveling into a stretcher