An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a common knee injury, especially among athletes. The ACL is a key ligament in stabilizing the knee joint. A torn ACL can cause the knee to give way, making it difficult to walk or even stand.

Can you walk with a torn ACL? Some people with a torn ACL may be able to walk, but they will likely have difficulty doing so. The knee may feel unstable or like it is going to give way. There may also be pain and swelling.

However, it is possible to walk and even run with a torn ACL with proper treatment and rehabilitation. This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of a torn ACL and how to rehabilitate the knee afterward.

What is the ACL?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a strong band of tissue that connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). The ACL runs through the middle of the knee, crossing the posterior cruciate ligament, and helps stabilize the joint. It also prevents the tibia from sliding too far forward in relation to the femur.

When the ACL is intact, it allows for normal knee movement and helps to distribute weight evenly across the joint. However, when the ACL is torn, the knee becomes unstable and can give way during certain activities.

What Causes a Torn ACL?

Several things can cause the ACL to tear. The most common cause is an injury or trauma to the knee, such as during a car accident or a fall. However, you can also tear the ACL due to overuse, such as repetitive stress or high-impact activities.

In athletes, the ACL is often torn during activities that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, such as basketball, football, and soccer. These movements can place a great deal of stress on the knee joint and may cause the ACL to tear. These injuries can be either non-contact injuries or contact injuries.

Some people may be born with abnormalities in the knee joint that make them more likely to tear the ACL. For example, people with “loose” ligaments may be more prone to ACL tears.

When the collateral ligaments, like the medial collateral ligament or lateral collateral ligament, are “loose,” they are not as tight and may not provide as much stability to the knee joint. These ligaments are on both the inside and outside of the knee and provide a lot of stability to ensure all of the interior structures like veins, arteries, nerves, and other ligaments stay intact.

In addition, people who have had previous ACL injuries are at an increased risk of re-injury. This is because the ligament may not heal properly and may be weaker than before. Many studies suggest that up to 50% of people who tear their ACL will go on to re-injure it.

Symptoms of a Torn ACL

The most common symptom of a torn ACL is knee pain. This pain may be mild at first and may only occur during or after physical activity. However, the pain may become more severe as the injury progresses and even occurs at rest.

Other symptoms of an ACL tear include:

● Swelling in the knee

● Joint instability

● Knee giving way

● Poor range of motion in the knee

● Popping sound or snapping sensation in the knee

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see physiotherapists or orthopedic surgeons. They will be able to diagnose the injury and develop a treatment plan.


Grades of a Torn ACL

You can classify the severity of the injury into three grades as per the (United States) American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

Grade 1: A small portion of the ligament is torn. This grade of injury is also called a sprain. Its microscopic tears do not alter the knee joint’s stability. When the knee is moved, there may be some pain.

Grade 2: A moderate portion of the ligament is torn. The knee joint becomes more unstable. When the knee is moved, there will likely be pain and swelling with this partial tear.

Grade 3: All or most of the ligament is torn. This is also called a complete tear. The knee joint is very unstable. There will be severe pain and swelling.

Diagnosing a Torn ACL

To appropriately diagnose a torn ACL the doctor will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. They will also conduct a physical examination of your knee. They will check for signs of instability, swelling, and tenderness during the examination.

To confirm the diagnosis, the healthcare provider may order one or more of the following tests:

X-ray: This imaging test can help rule out other injuries, such as fractures.

MRI: This imaging test can provide more detailed images of the knee and ligaments.

Arthroscopy: It is a surgical procedure in which a small camera is inserted into the knee joint. This can allow the doctor to visualize the ACL and other structures in the knee directly.

There are other physical assessments that athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other medical professionals can utilize to try to form an opinion on whether or not you have a torn ACL. Unfortunately, these assessments are certainly not always correct.

One such assessment is the Lachman test. During this test, the examiner will attempt to move your knee joint forward while stabilizing your lower leg. A positive Lachman test is considered strong evidence for an ACL tear. However, studies have shown that the Lachman test only has a sensitivity of 79% and a specificity of 95%. This means that 21% of the time the test will say you have a torn ACL when you do not have one.

Treatment for a Torn ACL

 The treatment for a torn ACL will depend on several factors, such as the injury’s severity, age, and activity level. In some cases, nonsurgical treatments, such as physiotherapy, may be enough to help the knee heal properly. However, surgery will be necessary for most people to repair the ligament.

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling, restore knee stability, and improve function.

Nonsurgical Treatment for a Torn ACL

Nonsurgical treatment may be an option for people with a low activity level or those who are older. People with grade 1 and grade 2 partial ACL tears may also be eligible for this treatment. Nonsurgical treatment typically involves a combination of the following:

Rest: This is important to allow the knee time to heal. 

Ice: This can help reduce pain and swelling.

Compression: This can also help reduce pain and swelling. 

Elevation: It helps reduce swelling by keeping the knee above the heart level. 

Pain medication: Sports medicine can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve knee range of motion and muscle strength. If necessary, they can also help you with crutches or other assistive devices.

Surgical Treatment for a Torn ACL

ACL reconstruction surgery aims to repair the torn ligament and restore knee stability. Surgical treatment is typically necessary for people with a complete ACL tear. It may also be an option for people with a grade 2 ACL tear who are young and active.

Two Types of Surgery For a Torn ACL

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure in which small incisions are made around the knee. A tiny camera is inserted into the knee joint to allow the surgeon to see the ACL. The ACL is then repaired using special instruments.

Open surgery is a more traditional reconstructive surgery in which a large incision is made over the knee. The surgeon can then directly see and repair the ACL. 

Both types of surgery require an autograft or allograft to complete the reconstructive surgery, recreating the torn ligament. Common examples of grafts used during this surgery include the hamstring graft, patellar tendon graft, and quadriceps tendon graft.

After surgery, you will likely need to use crutches or a knee brace for some time. You will also need to undergo physical therapy to regain knee range of motion and strength. 


Risk Factors for Tearing Your ACL

Several factors can increase your risk of a torn ACL, including:

● Sports involving a sudden change in direction are considered high-risk

● Having had a previous knee injury

● Having weak thigh muscles

● Having loose knee ligaments can make the knee joint more unstable

● Wearing high heels can also put extra stress on the ACL.

Can You Walk With a Torn ACL?

In short, you can walk with a torn ACL, but it is not recommended. A torn ACL can lead to instability in the knee joint, which can increase your risk of further injury. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible so that you can receive the appropriate treatment for your injury.

Each individual is unique and some athletes may be able to walk or even live normal lives with a torn ACL without surgical treatment. Some athletes have also been known to continue to compete even without their ACL, but only you and your doctor can make that decision.

How Soon Can You Walk After ACL Injury? 

How soon you will walk again after an ACL tear depends on the severity of your injury and whether or not you have surgery. For most people, it will take several weeks to months before they can walk without pain or a knee brace.

For mild ACL injuries, you may be able to walk with little to no pain within a few weeks. However, you will likely need to use a knee brace and avoid high-impact activities for at least six months.

You may need surgery to repair the ligament for more severe ACL tears. Most people can return to walking without intense pain or a knee brace within three to six months.

The athletes or other highly active individuals may require more time to recover and may not be able to return to their previous level of activity for six months or more.

Recovery from ACL surgery takes time, but the good news is that most people can eventually return to their previous activity level. This may mean walking without pain or a knee brace for some people. For others, it may mean returning to a high-level sport. It is important to follow your surgeon’s instructions and be patient during the recovery process.


Yes, you can walk with a torn ACL, but it is not recommended. Walking on a torn ACL can further damage the knee joint and surrounding structures and may lead to long-term complications. If you have a torn ACL, it is best to seek medical treatment and avoid activities that put stress on the knee joint.

I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to us. 

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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