In short, the answer is yes‚you can walk with a torn ACL.
But there are caveats.
First, a story. I remember straining my medial collateral ligament (MCL) during college football practice. The unnatural way the knee bent and the initial pain—I was convinced my season was over. “Can you walk?” asked the coach. And to my surprise the answer was yes.
I finished practice and it wasn’t until the next day that everything stiffened up.
I share this story because the situation is similar to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. Is the injury immediately apparent and a little bit shocking? Yes, absolutely. Is it completely debilitating? Not always. And under the right circumstances, you can walk with a torn ACL.
This can be both a blessing and a curse.
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Assuming that walking is approved by your physician, you should avoid any twisting, turning, and sudden movements. Your ACL is essential to these movements—after a tear, sudden twists can lead to buckling, re-injury, and permanent damage to your knee cartilage.
Although a person with a fully torn ACL can usually resume walking soon after the injury, athletes playing sports that require lateral movement and quick turns often face a different path to recovery. It’s likely they will miss significant time.
RELATED: Is ACL Surgery the Right Option?
Walking at an easy pace is one thing. For people who’ve torn an ACL but don’t expect to return to high-intensity activity, a non-surgical path can be followed that usually includes a rather quick reintroduction of regular walking activities.
Repairing a torn ACL and returning to 100% normal athletic function is wholly another. An ACL rehabilitation protocol of one kind or another is usually recommended for athletes who expect to return to their sports to avoid further damage to both the ACL and the rest of the knee structure.
One option is to reduce the body-weight and gravity impact on the knee, which can be done with tools like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™. By unweighting up to eighty percent of the person’s body weight, physical therapists can introduce walking exercises that help retrain and restrengthen the knee while correcting any gait asymmetries.
To learn more, watch our ACL repair protocol video.