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ACL surgery

Overview of ACL surgery

If you’re struggling with knee painresulting from a torn ACL, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair your knee joint. During this procedure (also called an ACL reconstruction, ACL replacement, or ACL repair), your orthopedic surgeon works to repair your torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. This ligament supports your joint and helps stabilize your knee.

At Dignity Health, our orthopedic surgeons are focused on providing you with the most advanced treatment in a warm, compassionate atmosphere. If your doctor recommends ACL surgery, find a specialist near you today.

Why it’s necessary

If you’re experiencing pain in your knee from an ACL injury, surgery can restore stability to your joint, allowing it to function normally. Our orthopedic doctors may recommend surgery if you’ve completely torn your ACL or have other injuries in addition to an ACL tear. It is very common to have several knee injuries at once.

Before recommending surgery, your doctor will evaluate your range of motion, strength, and other symptoms, as well as to conduct diagnostic imaging scans such as x-rays and MRIs of your knee.

Your orthopedic doctor may suggest ACL surgery if:

  • You’re an active adult looking to continue your usual sports
  • You are an older child or teen whose growth plates have closed
  • You have symptoms of an unstable knee, including pain or a knee that gives way during daily activities
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation have not been successful
  • You have multiple knee injuries

ACL surgery may be necessary in these cases to restore normal function to your knee. Then you can safely return to your everyday activities.

Common conditions treated with ACL surgery

ACL surgery repairs a torn anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.

The ACL can become damaged through sports, such as soccer, basketball, or football. Any activity that involves rapidly changing direction, stopping suddenly, landing from a jump, or collision puts you at risk for injuring your ACL. It is very common to have multiple knee injuries that accompany a torn ACL, such as injury to the medial meniscus or MCL (medial collateral ligament


Several types of grafts may be used in an ACL reconstruction. Grafts can be either autografts (those from your own body) or allografts (those from a cadaver).

Common types of grafts include:

  • Patellar tendon autograft. This type of graft is recommended for athletes who do not need to kneel. Patellar tendon grafts have a low rate of failure, but a higher chance of pain behind the kneecap after surgery, as well as pain with kneeling and increased risk of stiffness.
  • Hamstring tendon autograft. This type of graft is associated with fewer problems in the outside knee or the kneecap, less stiffness, and a faster recovery. It also requires a smaller incision.
  • Quadriceps tendon autograft. This type of graft is usually used in patients who have already had an ACL repair that failed. It is a larger graft often used for taller or heavier patients. There is a high chance of anterior knee pain, but a low risk of patella fracture.
  • Allografts. This type of graft comes from a cadaver and has lower risk of pain, decreased surgery time, and smaller incisions. Because allografts do not come from your own body, there is a higher risk of infection and chance of failure.

You and your doctor will discuss which type of graft is best for your specific case.


As with any surgery, there are certain risks to be aware of before the procedure. Risks of ACL reconstruction include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection at the surgical site
  • Poor healing of the graft or graft failure
  • Knee pain or stiffness

ACL surgery does not protect you from re-injuring your ACL in the future.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.