Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Reconstruction (arthroscopic) – using
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Procedure
The Anterior cruciate is a ligament that runs inside the knee from the thigh bone to the shin bone giving
stability to the knee joint. Loss or damage of the ligament can make the knee more prone to ‘giving way’.
Your ACL has torn (ruptured). You may have come to a joint decision with your surgeon to attempt a
reconstruction. Unfortunately, once this ligament has torn, it cannot usually be repaired. As a result, a new
ligament must be made from elsewhere (a graft).
You will be seen by the surgeon on the day of the operation. The surgeon will take the opportunity to mark
your leg with a felt pen. This is to ensure the correct leg will be operated on. If you have any questions, now
is a good time to ask them. An anaesthetic will be administered in theatre. This may be a general anaesthetic
(where you will be asleep) or a local block (e.g. where you are awake but the area to be operated is
completely numbed). You must discuss this and the risks with the anaesthetist.
A tight inflatable band (tourniquet) may be wrapped around your thigh to limit the amount of bleeding.
During the operation, the surgeon will perform a telescope examination of your knee (an arthroscopy). Small
cuts are made through skin which has been cleaned by antiseptic solution. The cuts are usually no bigger
than 1cm and made either side of the knee cap. An arthroscope (small telescope with a camera at the end
less than the width of a pencil) can look into the knee and shows a picture on a nearby television screen. The
surgeon will introduce other instruments through the second cut. Any “tidying up” of any other structures can
be done at this point (such as smoothening cartilage). A graft also needs to be taken. There are a few
methods and types of graft available. Whichever your surgeon chooses depends on their preference or
suitability for your case. The two common techniques used are either taking a tendon from the hamstring
muscles or using part of the ligament that runs from the kneecap to the shin bone (patellar-tendon graft).
Both involve making cuts in the skin in front of the knee.
Tunnels are drilled which allow the graft to pass through the knee joint. This graft is then held into position
at both ends by screws, pins or slings. It is important to get the right tension on the ligament as it is fixed.
The open skin is then closed with stitches or metallic clips.
You will wake up in the recovery room with a bandage around the knee. You may feel sore. This is normal.
However, if the pain is intolerable, it is very important you tell the nursing staff.
When you are feeling well enough, and you have been shown how to walk with crutches, you will be allowed
to go home. You should partial weight bear until told to walk normally by your surgeon. You will more than
likely be introduced to a rehabilitation (physiotherapy) program. It is very important you attend this strictly
Alternatives to Surgery
-Some patients simply avoid activities that cause their knees to be unstable.
-Physiotherapy and increasing strength of hamstrings and quadriceps may be able to compensate for the
injury. The knee may still however be prone to ‘giving way’ and instability.
-Wearing of a brace can replace the ligament and for some patients this will be all that is wanted.
The decision to proceed to a reconstruction should be a joint one between yourself and the surgeon.
There are also alternative methods of reconstruction and numerous grafts that can be used. You should
discuss the options with your surgeon beforehand
Risks Common 2-5%
PAIN: the knee will be painful after the procedure. Pain killers(Analgesics) will be given to prevent this
including enough to go home with.
NUMBNESS: the skin around the knee or shin may be temporarily or more permanently numb due to damage
of small nerves.
SWELLING/ HAEMARTHROSIS: This is a collection of fluid or less commonly, blood in the knee joint. In most
cases, the body will absorb the fluid itself. If the swelling becomes too large, the surgeon may feel an
operation is necessary.
STIFFNESS: you may have difficulty in straightening your knee or squatting. PERSISTENT PAIN: pain may
persist after the procedure. A repeat arthroscopy or other knee operation may be required.
CONTINUED INSTABILITY: weakness and instability may occur despite adequate surgery
Risks Less Common 1-2%
INFECTION: the wound sites may become red, painful and hot. There may also be a discharge. These are
signs of infection and can usually be treated by antibiotics. The infection may spread to the knee joint itself
(requiring a washout) and removal of the graft. Infection may also spread to the blood (sepsis) requiring
GRAFT RUPTURE: (torn graft) this may occur after further trauma. Further surgery may be necessary.
Risks Rare <1%
DAMAGE TO STRUCTURES WITHIN THE KNEE: this is rare, but may cause further damage and symptoms.
This may need further treatment including operation. These include fractured knee cap (patella) if a patellar
tendon graft is used.
DAMAGE TO THE SKIN UNDER THE TOURNIQUET: this may require dressing, surgery or skin graft. There
may also be numbness of the skin under the tourniquet, this is usually temporary.
DAMAGED INSTRUMENTS: these may break within the knee and require an opening of the joint to remove
ABNORMAL WOUND HEALING: the scar may become thick, red and painful (keloid scar). This is more
common in Afro-Caribbeans. There may also be delayed wound healing for numerous reasons.
COMPARTMENT SYNDROME: this is a build up pressure within the lower leg and can cause nerve damage,
blood vessel damage and muscle damage. If this occurs, an emergency operation will have to be performed
to prevent death of tissue of the lower leg/ foot.
OSTEOARTHRITIS: this can be more common after joint operations.
DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS/ PULMONARY EMBOLUS: This is a blood clot that arises in the veins of the leg. In
the leg, it can painful and cause redness and swelling. If the clot travels into the lungs, it forms a Pulmonary
embolus. This can severely affect your breathing and can be fatal. If you have a history of clotting/
thrombosis (or a suspicion that you may be at risk, please speak to your doctor).