Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are very common in people who play sports or lead active lives. Hundreds of thousands of people undergo ACL reconstruction surgery every year. But does a patient with a partial ACL tear need surgery? In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I discuss what a partial ACL tear means and when you might need ACL surgery.

Jeric asks:
Does a partial ACL tear need a surgery?

You typically suffer a torn ACL landing from a jump or planting your foot to quickly change directions. The knee buckles, and you fall to the ground. You feel (and sometime hear) a pop in your knee, and you develop intense pain and swelling.

Usually you suffer a complete ACL injury, where the entire ligament is torn. If your doctor orders an MRI, it might show a partial ACL tear, but only a small number of fibers are intact. Often it reads high-grade partial ACL tear or something similar. This is essentially a complete ACL tear in the sense that the knee is still unstable, and the few remaining fibers cannot stabilize the knee.

Image of a partial ACL tear with most of the ligament fibers torn

In this video, I discuss the distinction between a complete and partial ACL tear. I explain when you could need surgery if you have a partial ACL and how the doctor can make the decision.

Also read:
Can I wear a brace instead of having surgery for an ACL tear?
Can you avoid surgery for an ACL tear?