Most major insurances accepted.  
Skip to main content

Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

 Can an ACL Tear Heal on Its Own?

It should come as no surprise that knee injuries are common given all that these large joints do in terms of providing you with support and mobility. Drilling down further, almost half of all knee injuries involve anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, which come with their own set of considerations when it comes to healing.

If you’re looking for information about ACL tears, you’ve come to the right place. William Schell, MD is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee injuries. While Dr. Schell excels in the surgical arena, we also understand the value in allowing the body time to heal on its own. But does this approach work with ACL tears? Let’s take a look.

A brief dive into ACL anatomy

We’re sure you got a crash course in knee anatomy after tearing your ACL, so we’ll keep our description brief. Each of your knees features four ligaments that stabilize your knee joints, including the: 

  1. Posterior cruciate ligament
  2. Anterior cruciate ligament
  3. Medial collateral ligament
  4. Lateral collateral ligament

While you can damage any of these ligaments, ACL injuries are, far and away, the most common because this connective tissue is responsible for the rotational stability in your knee. 

The degree of the ACL damage matters … a lot

As with any damage to soft tissues in your body, there are different degrees of an ACL injury:

When you have an ACL injury, our first task is to determine the extent of the damage, which will dictate your treatment options moving forward.

Since we’re discussing whether an ACL can heal on its own after an injury, we can say that the answer depends on three main points:

  1. The extent of the tear
  2. Your activity level
  3. The amount of instability in your knee as a result of the tear

So, if you have a grade 1 ACL injury and your knee feels fairly stable, you can modify your activity levels for a few months and rely on physical therapy to help the tissue heal on its own.

Conversely, if you have a complete ACL tear, your knee is unstable, and your active life is important to you, understand that letting the ligament heal on its own is risky. In many cases of complete ACL tears, the ligament doesn’t stitch back together on its own because it doesn’t enjoy a good supply of blood. 

While you can continue to function with a torn ACL, your knee won’t likely regain its former stability, which can curb your active life quite a lot. Not to mention, a chronically unstable knee can lead to further damage, such as meniscus tears, down the road.

That said, if you have extensive damage in your ACL and you act quickly to brace your knee, modify your activities, and engage fully in physical therapy, it’s not unheard of that the tissues can heal without surgery.

Despite the fact that Dr. Schell’s focus is surgical, we often take a wait-and-see approach before jumping into surgery. So, we recommend that you work with us on nonsurgical solutions for your ACL tear first. But should they prove ineffective, we can explore surgical repair.

To figure out which approach is best for your ACL tear, please contact our New York City office, which is located on Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Does My Rotator Cuff Injury Require Surgery?

You have a tear in your rotator cuff and you’re looking forward to using your arm normally again, but is this only possible with surgery? The short answer is, “It depends.” The longer answer is found in this post.
How We Diagnose a Tendon Injury

How We Diagnose a Tendon Injury

When you’re dealing with orthopedic issues, the most important step is getting the right diagnosis so you can get on the road to relief without delay. Here’s how we accomplish just that with tendon injuries.
The Worst Activities to Do for Your Knees

The Worst Activities to Do for Your Knees

We use our knees all day, so it’s no surprise that knee pain takes a big toll on our lives. Avoiding some activities may help reduce knee pain or even prevent it. In this post, learn which activities you should avoid for your knees.
6 Signs of Patellar Instability

6 Signs of Patellar Instability

If you think your kneecap is just a protective shield, think again. This important part of your knee joint also joins muscles that allow you to move your leg, so when your kneecap is unstable, so is your leg.
5 Tips to Prepare for Knee Replacement Surgery

5 Tips to Prepare for Knee Replacement Surgery

Your knee pain isn’t getting any better, and you’ve decided that total knee replacement is your best option for, quite literally, moving forward. To make this journey smoother, we offer some tips.