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Can You Play Football With a Torn ACL: What You Need to Know


Can you play football with a torn ACL? This is a question that many athletes and sports enthusiasts struggle with, as the answer can have far-reaching impacts on their performance and health.

At first glance, it may seem that having a torn ACL would preclude one from playing football altogether. After all, the knee is such a critical part of this sport, and any injury to this joint could have a significant impact on one’s ability to perform.

In this blog post, we will provide our opinion and analysis on whether it is possible to play football with a torn ACL. We will look at the various factors that can impact this question, including the severity of the injury, the athlete’s overall health and fitness level, and more.

The Knee Joint

Before going into whether or not you can play football with a torn ACL, it’s important to know more about your knee joint as a whole.

The knee joint is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body and can be prone to injury.

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of four major ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint and keep it functioning properly. The other main ligaments are the PCL, the MCL, and the LCL.

When any of these ligaments are torn or injured, it can lead to considerable inflammation and knee instability. This can make it difficult or potentially even impossible to perform certain movements, such as running or jumping.

This joint also includes several other components like tendons, muscles, and cartilage that can be impacted by a torn ACL. That being said, an ACL tear is not the only injury knee injury that can prevent someone from playing on the gridiron.

Football Players’ Knee Injuries

While there can be a wide range of injuries that can impact a football player’s ability to play on the field, most can agree that an ACL tear is one of the most serious and can have long-lasting impacts.

Below is a list of some of the most common contact sports knee injuries:

– ACL injury: This can occur as a result of sudden stops or sharp turns, resulting in non-contact injuries, or as a result of a direct impact on the joint. Young athletes or even elite athletes can endure an ACL injury which can vary in severity depending on the grade of your injury. There are three grades of an ACL injury, ranging from a sprain (grade 1), partial tear (grade 2), or a complete tear (grade 3 injury).

– Other torn ligament: In addition to an ACL tear, other ligaments can be damaged or even torn in football players, which can result in knee instability and difficulty playing on the field. These ligaments are the PCL, MCL, and LCL.

Whether the torn ligament is the ACL or one of the others it is certain that, generally, you are likely to incur a higher rate of injury if you compete without all of these ligaments intact. This is especially true for female athletes where the risk of injury is 2 to 8 times more likely than their male counterparts.

– Meniscus tear: a torn meniscus can occur due to extreme twisting motions. The meniscus is a cartilaginous structure that helps support the knee joint as a shock absorber.

– Knee joint fracture: this can occur as a result of an impact on the knee and can make it difficult to straighten your leg or put weight on it. This injury, like everything else on this list, can cause severe pain and stunt your growth if you’re a younger athlete and the injury occurs on the growth plates.

So, can you play football with a torn ACL?

Can You Play Football With a Torn ACL?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on several different factors.

Some people may be able to successfully play football with a torn ACL, depending on a number of factors. However, there can also be a higher risk of further knee injuries or other complications if you choose to play football with a torn ACL.

There is new literature emerging, like this recent study, that is investigating if there are some individuals who can compete without their ACL. These individuals are called “copers” and can play football (or other sports) with a torn ACL, albeit with an increased risk for further injury.

So, if you are an elite athlete and looking to compete in football at the highest level, it is best to consult with your doctor or orthopedic specialist to determine if you can safely play on the gridiron despite having a torn ACL.

Ultimately it is between you, as the player and athlete, along with your physician to weigh the risks and benefits of playing football with a torn ACL and make the decision that’s right for you.


Factors that Affect Whether or Not an ACL Tear Can Prevent You From Competing

There are several factors that can affect whether or not an ACL tear can prevent you from competing in football, including:

– Severity and grade of the injury: The severity and grade of your ACL injury can impact whether or not you can play on the gridiron. For example, if you have a partial tear of the ACL, this can often be treated with physical therapy and can allow you to continue playing football. However, if you have a complete tear, surgery may be required and recovery can take months to years in some cases.

– Age: Younger athletes are more likely to recover from an injury like an ACL tear faster than older athletes since their bodies can often heal and regenerate more quickly. This can impact whether or not you can play football with a torn ACL, as the younger you are, the more likely you are to recover successfully.

– Medical history: Your overall health can also affect whether or not you can play football with an ACL injury. For example, if you have other medical conditions or injuries, your recovery can be impacted and can make it more difficult to compete.

– Joint stability: each individual has a different experience when they tear an ACL. Some individuals have a solid endpoint (such as during the Lachman’s), while others have extreme instability. The more unstable you are, the higher your risk of further injury can be.

– Fitness level: Your level of fitness or BMI can also play a role in whether or not you can compete on the football field with a torn ACL. If you are already in great shape, your body can be better equipped to compete with an injury like an ACL tear which can help you return to playing football more quickly.

– Level of competition: If you are competing at a higher level, such as in the NFL or professional football leagues, there can be additional risk factors that affect whether or not you can play football with an ACL tear.

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to whether or not you can play football with a torn ACL. Factors such as the severity and grade of your injury, your age, medical history, joint stability, fitness level, and level of competition can all impact whether or not you can safely compete in football with an ACL tear.

It is important to consult with your doctor or orthopedic specialist to weigh the risks and benefits of playing on the gridiron if you have a torn ACL, and to make the decision that is right for you.

But if you are an elite athlete and looking to compete at the highest level, it’s possible (although unlikely) that with proper treatment and rehabilitation, you can still play football despite a torn ACL.

My Story

I took 8 weeks after my first ACL tear and underwent rigorous training that was very beneficial to my recovery. I was able to play in multiple games at the collegiate level following my ACL tear, with the use of a custom knee brace. That being said, I displayed very little instability in the joint, making me a bit of a “rare” case. I also had little to no pain throughout my entire rehabilitation following my ACL tear.

If you want more information on my story, take a look at my book “Torn“. While physically I had an easy experience, I truly struggled with the psychological component of the injury.

No matter how your injury occurred, and what your experience has been it is imperative to get the appropriate treatment for your situation.


Treatment Options for ACL Tears

If you are suffering from a torn ACL several treatment options can help to relieve your symptoms and support the healing process to make a complete recovery. These are the same whether you are playing at the professional level or are one of the thousands of high school athletes who have these injuries.

The most common treatment options can be seen in the below list:

– Physical therapy: working with a physical therapist can help to improve strength, flexibility, and stability in the knee. Working with a sports medicine specialist can certainly help your recovery time and prevent muscle imbalance as you return to your normal physical activities.

– Knee brace: if you do not undergo surgery, a knee brace can help to provide support and stability to your knee, reducing the risk of further injury, especially to the collateral ligaments.

– Surgery: surgery can be performed to repair or reconstruct the ACL to restore its integrity and prevent further injury.

ACL surgery is performed by an orthopedic surgeon. An ACL reconstruction surgery is a surgery that uses tissue from either your own body or the body of a donor, to provide you with a new ACL.

This reconstructive surgery is also arthroscopic, meaning the surgeon makes small incisions and utilizes an arthroscope to minimize the damage to the surrounding tissue.

How to Prevent Future Injury to the ACL

ACL prevention programs are becoming increasingly popular with all levels of athletics, from adolescent to professional athletes, as they can help to minimize the risk of future ACL tears.

These programs can be found either online, at your local physical therapy clinic, or even more readily with your team’s athletic trainer.

Some tips for preventing an ACL tear can be seen below:

Strengthen your hamstrings and quadriceps: strong and well-balanced muscles can help to provide increased stability to the knee.

– Improve your flexibility: maintaining good flexibility in your joints can also help prevent injury by decreasing the risk of overextension or overstretching.

– Use proper form when performing physical movements: for example, keep your back straight when performing squats to help stabilize your knee joint and train your body to move in efficient and safe ways.

– Provide comprehensive education on nutrition: eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet can help to support your overall health and can also aid in injury prevention. Carrying too much weight can put you at increased risk for joint injuries.

Overall, if you are looking to prevent an ACL tear there are several steps that you can take to reduce your risk of this common sports injury.

Whether you are a professional athlete or just starting in your athletic endeavors, taking steps to improve your strength and flexibility can help keep you on the field and out of the operating room.

Talk to a Professional Today

If you have a torn ACL and are planning on playing football or any other sport that requires intense physical activity, it is important to consult with your doctor or a sports medicine specialist to determine if you can safely play.

There are several treatment options available, including physical therapy, knee braces, and surgery, depending on the severity of your injury.

With the right care and rehabilitation, you can recover from a torn ACL and return to your normal level of activity in no time.