Non-Surgical Treatment Options for ACL Tears

Torn an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the most dreaded injury for athletes and active individuals. Most people immediately think surgery is the only option for recovery, but this isn’t always the case! In this blog post, we’re diving into non-surgical treatments for ACL tears so you know that you don’t necessarily have to go under the knife if you experience a knee injury. We’ll talk about how long it takes to recover from an ACL tear without surgery and what treatments may be used to get your knee back in action!

Diagnosis of ACL Tears

ACL tears are a type of knee injury that can occur when the ACL, one of the major ligaments in the knee, is stretched or torn. The ACL is a tissue band that connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia) and helps stabilize the knee joint.

ACL tears are common in athletes who participate in sports involving sudden stops, direction changes, or jumping, such as basketball, soccer, and football. They can also occur during non-contact activities, such as skiing or gymnastics, or due to a traumatic injury, such as a car accident.

Symptoms of an ACL tear may include pain, swelling, instability, and a popping or snapping sensation in the knee. In some cases, people with an ACL tear may become unable to bear weight on the affected leg.

The diagnosis of an ACL tear is typically made through a combination of a physical exam and imaging tests.

  1. Physical examination: The doctor will first perform a physical examination to evaluate the knee’s stability, range of motion, and tenderness. They will look for swelling, bruising, and other signs of injury. Physicians often use the Lachman and pivot shift tests to diagnose and assess the ACL’s condition.
  2. Imaging tests: Imaging tests like X-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and ultrasound can help confirm the diagnosis of an ACL tear and assess the severity of the injury. MRI is a common imaging test for ACL tears because it provides detailed images of the soft tissues in the knee.
  3. Arthroscopy: In some cases, arthroscopy (a surgical procedure involving inserting a small camera into the knee joint) may be used to visualize the injury and confirm the diagnosis.

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis because ACL tear treatment options will vary depending on the severity of the injury. Surgery may sometimes be necessary to repair or reconstruct the torn ligament. In other cases, non-surgical treatment such as physical therapy and bracing may be sufficient.

Conservative Treatment Options for ACL Tears

Conservative treatment for ACL tears may be appropriate for individuals with mild to moderate injury who do not participate in strenuous physical activities.

Some conservative treatment options for ACL tears include:

  1. Rest and physical therapy: Resting the knee and engaging in physical therapy exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve the range of motion, and reduce pain and swelling. It is a common traditional treatment for ACL tears.
  2. Bracing: A knee brace may provide additional support to the knee and limit the risk of further injury.
  3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  4. Activity modification: Avoiding activities that stress the knee, such as jumping and pivoting sports, can help protect the knee and allow it to heal.

Regenerative Treatment Options for ACL Tears

Regenerative treatment options for ACL tears aim to promote the natural healing of the ligament and improve its strength and function. These treatments may be used alone or in combination with other conservative or surgical treatments, depending on the injury’s severity and the individual’s overall health and activity level.

Some regenerative treatment options for ACL tears include:

  1. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy: This involves using a patient’s blood to extract and concentrate the platelets, which contain growth factors that promote tissue healing and regeneration. The concentrated platelets are injected into the injured knee to accelerate healing and promote tissue growth.
  2. Stem cell therapy: This involves using stem cells from a patient’s body, such as bone marrow or adipose tissue, to promote tissue regeneration and repair. The stem cells are typically injected directly into the injured knee to promote the healing of the damaged ligament.
  3. Prolotherapy: This involves injecting a solution of dextrose and other substances into the injured knee to stimulate the body’s natural healing response and promote tissue growth.
  4. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT): This involves using high-intensity sound waves to stimulate tissue regeneration and promote healing of the injured ligament.

Integrative Treatment Options for ACL Tears

Some integrative treatment options for ACL tears include:

  1. Acupuncture: This involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body to reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing.
  2. Chiropractic care: This involves spinal adjustments and other techniques to promote proper alignment, reduce pain, and improve function.
  3. Massage therapy: This involves using various techniques to alleviate muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation and healing.
  4. Herbal medicine: Certain herbs and supplements may reduce inflammation and promote healing of the injured knee. Examples include turmeric, ginger, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Mind-body therapies: Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness may help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote healing.


Treating a torn ACL requires more than surgery; non-surgical treatment options can provide great relief. Many approaches and tools are available, from physical therapy to manual therapies, to help manage pain and restore function due to an ACL tear. While results vary from patient to patient, most people who opt to get ACL care using non-surgical methods often find a dramatic improvement in the condition of the knee within two to three months. 

Additionally, patients may experience decreased swelling within a few weeks of starting aggressive physical therapy plans. Lastly, successful non-surgical treatment for ACL tear may include bracing and gait training, yielding beneficial outcomes that may surpass those of surgical treatments. Overall, rehabilitation and lifestyle modifications will ultimately decide the success of such treatments, emphasizing self-care management around activity levels and diet.

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