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Am I Sore or Injured? The Symptoms of an ACL Tear

Competitive athletes are often trying to find the difficult balance between working out and training hard enough that they’ll excel when it comes time to compete, but not working out so intensely or so frequently that they have to cut back on their training because of fatigue or injury.

In fact, even trying to determine whether you are injured – or merely sore – can be difficult.

The distinction between muscle or joint soreness and an actual injury is not simply one of degree; being sore versus being injured will require completely different responses and treatments.

For example, having a sore knee might simply require that you follow a “R.I.C.E.” protocol of:

  • Resting the knee and stopping (or significantly modifying) your workouts;
  • Icing the knee several times a day;
  • Compressing the knee with an elastic bandage or other similar technique;  
  • Elevating the knee whenever possible to facilitate better drainage and reduced swelling.

However, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (“ACL”) of your knee is going to require a significantly different treatment protocol.

In some cases, an ACL injury will require surgery and an extensive rehabilitation program.

So how do you know whether the discomfort or pain in your knee is just soreness, or is actually an injury requiring professional treatment?

What exactly are the main symptoms of an ACL tear?

It’s important to make sure that you don’t make significant decisions about your athletic safety entirely on your own.

The symptoms list below should be used not to make a final decision on whether or not you have an injury, but to help you decide whether seeking professional help is a good idea.



Symptoms of an ACL Tear – When in doubt, Just go to the Doctor



If there’s ever any doubt about whether you might have injured your ACL, then go to a sports doctor or professional sports therapist.

The symptoms of an ACL tear include:

  • Hearing or feeling a “pop” in your knee, and feeling pain in the knee immediately after the popping sound.
  • Sudden pain that you feel on the outside of your knee, or on the back of your knee.
  • The pain feels like it’s right around the knee itself, and not in the muscles that are above or below the knee.
  • Sudden swelling of the knee, and difficulty moving it.

But keep in mind that the pain and swelling is not necessarily so significant as to prevent you from walking gingerly on your leg; it won’t be comfortable, but many people do hobble around for days or weeks after sustaining an ACL injury, not realizing the extent of the damage to the knee.

If you experience any of these symptoms of an ACL tear, it’s important to visit a sports medicine professional as soon as possible.

ACL injuries can sometimes require surgical repair, and the sooner you get an ACL tear repaired, the sooner you can begin a rehabilitation program.

Coming back from an ACL injury shouldn’t be rushed, so it’s important that you get any significant problems identified as soon as possible.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jorge Ramos

    I just had an injury with my knee, Idk if it’s a acl tear tho, I got swelling right away and I did feel lots of pain as soon as I got hit and now I am on a knee immobilizer and crutches but on my right knee I can’t bend the leg Inword but on my left led that I got injured I can what is that? And no my leg is not broken, please respond back I am 17

    • Jim Wnek

      Hey Jorge

      Well, as you know you injured your knee.
      Without proper testing (x-rays, MRI) it would be impossible to say what is wrong.

      Depending on how long you injured your knee and how it has felt since. Could just be a strain/sprain and would require rest and rehab.

      Hopefully you are feeling better.


  • Gareth harper

    Hello there, I suffered a pretty strong tackle to my left shin/knee and as I went to run after twisted my knee and something didn’t feel right (no loud pop that I recall though). It swelled a few hours later and walking was really difficult at first. My doctor thinks I have torn my acl but I’m not so sure it’s that bad as I feel little pain and can walk relatively well. It’s been 10 days now and the only real issues I have are stairs and I can’t put my foot onto the opposite leg (if that makes sense?).
    I’m in the military and my main concern is will I need surgery to be honest. Any advice will be greatly appreciated!

  • Jamie

    Great website! I was jogging out on the road a little over a week ago, and as I hopped up onto the curb, I felt a small pop in my right knee, followed by mild (not severe at all) pain. I kept going for about a quarter-mile, and while the pain did not increase, it did not go away, either. I finally decided that the wise thing to do would be to stop. When I got back to my apartment, I noticed that I did not have full range of motion — I could straighten the leg all the way but could not bend it completely. There was not–nor has there been–any feeling of instability at all. I have had no trouble walking, either. Now, nine days later, there is no discomfort at all (the mild pain from last week is gone,) and I have full range of motion. This morning, possibly foolishly, I jumped on the treadmill at a 4 mph pace for a half hour, then upped that to 7 mph for about five minutes. Again, no dicsomfort. As a precaution, I iced the knee afterward but this did not seem necessary.

    My question — given the above, is it possible that I am one of those rare individuals who sustain an ACL tear with minimal symptoms (i.e. little pain, no swelling, no instability) or could this be something else (e.g. Grade I ACL sprain, meniscus, damage to another part of the knee?) I would be inclined to think it is perhaps the latter, except that I definitely heard the dreaded pop when I jumped up on the curb. For what it’s worth, I did not feel that the landing was awkward or abrupt, and the curb is probably four inches high. I’m sure the prescribed course of action is to seek medical attention, but any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Andrew

      Jamie it could be a tear, get it checked out
      I could do all the same as you after I tore mine
      The ACL holds the bone in the knee cap, don’t turn either way suddenly if it’s torn it could pop the bone out
      Can you pull the bone out? Grab the back of your leg and pull it forward or better yet get a trained professional to do it.

  • Jack

    Hi there. I played one hour single tennis 3 days ago , didn’t feel anything during the tennis , but later that night start to feel some pain and soreness on my right leg ACL, specially when I try to lift my right leg, I iced last night and it seems got a bit better.I can’t see any swelling and I didn’t fall or anything to cause a sudden pain. Have a tennis tournament coming up in 4 days wonder if I should still attend.

  • I am a 18 year old male basketball player. In my game I hyperextended my knee. I didn’t hear any popping during the incident but it hurts really bad now. It clicks when moving it but it doesn’t hurt to walk it just hurts really bad afterwards. I have no idea what it is. Do you? Thanks!

    • Jim Wnek

      Hey Fred
      Thanks for visiting.
      I couldn’t say for certain.
      Rest it, ice and keep it elevated.

      Move your knee through pain free range of motion.

      Definitely have it evaluated by a doctor.
      Hopefully nothing was damaged and it is just a strain.

      Good luck

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