View Full Version : Can i ride with a torn ACL?

Oct. 27, 2009, 10:53 PM
Im only hoping to ride without stirrups until its totally healed...
Does anyone have any experience with torn ACLs? Do you know if i would make it worse by riding?
Thanks for any help!

Oct. 27, 2009, 11:07 PM
A torn ACL will never "heal", but certainly an acutely injured knee with torn ligaments can get better with time, therapy, and sometimes surgery. I tore my ACL (75% of it) in a fall XC 5 years ago. Initially it was very swollen and unstable, but I had minimal pain. No way could I ride at that time--the knee was too unstable. I rehabbed the heck out of it once the swelling came down (quad and hamstring strength is V-I-T-A-L to a good outcome from an ACL injury) and had surgery 2 months later, fortunately a trial of no reconstruction, just cleaning out the torn shreds, was a huge success and today I have literally no trouble with it. I can run, ride, mount from the ground, and it gives me NO trouble at all. Every now and then it wobbles--there's still just a shred of an ACL left and no MCL--and I don't jump down on it or ice skate/rollerblade any more without my brace, but those things are not important to me anyhow at this age! :lol: Every knee is different, every ACL injury is different. You need a good orthopedist to spell out the options for you and ideally a good PT/trainer who can get you back on course to riding again when the time comes. Good luck! There are LOTS of riders out there with no/bad/reconstructed/shredded ACLs. :)

Oct. 28, 2009, 12:30 AM
I tore my ACL skiing a few years ago and I couldn't pivot on it without the joints rubbing together, never mind ride. I had total reconstructive surgery and the doctor took muscle from my thigh to put into my knee. I laid low with ice and physio for 8 months before setting foot in a stirrup again, and I don't ride without a brace. Even now I still have some pain if I ride to hard, or too long.

Oct. 28, 2009, 12:43 AM
I came off the day before a dressage show and landed on my feet nine years ago, completely popped my ACL (as in, it is no longer there). It was hugely swollen right after it happened, I couldnt walk very well but continued to ride three horses all weekend at the show. I went to the doctor the day after the show, and the MRI showed that my ACL was gone. He put me on pre-surgical physical therapy (ouch) but I continued to ride. Again, it was just walking that was a problem. After PT, I walked pretty well, and when I went for my last pre-surgical exam, the surgeon said my knee was so stable that he couldnt see doing surgery on me at that time. He said when it became unstable, to come back and have reconstruction with a cadaver or my own hamstring.
Nine years later, its still very stable. I ride several horses 5-6 days/week, and walk and run normally. I dont snow ski or water ski anymore, and I'm careful not to ride goofy horses that are likely to toss me, because if I stupidly try and land on my feet again that could cause a lot more damage.
I know there are many cases where surgery is the only option, but for me, so far, I've done just fine w/o an ACL. In my case, I think the riding is what has made my knee so stable. I guess its muscles that are keeping it stable instead of the ligament.

Oct. 28, 2009, 01:05 AM
The orthopedist who my daughter saw after she injured her knee 3 years ago commented that riders often don't seem to need a functioning ACL. My daughter went back to riding without stirrups and at the walk a few days after the injury, and has done well. Her plan is to have it replaced when it bothers her, but not before.

Oct. 28, 2009, 08:31 AM
Our boarder injured hers at a field hockey camp in July. She tried to get out bareback before her surgery and was in so much pain. She had the surgery in Sept. and MIGHT be able to get back on by November.

Oct. 28, 2009, 09:04 AM
I completely popped my ACL (Skiing ) at age 50-- no other damage of other ligaments or meniscus (sp) - did 3 weeks heavy duty PT before surgery, and then had ACL replacement ( "donor" ) since surgeon said my tendons were "out of warranty".. nice way of saying I was too old to use my own graft. Anyway, post surgery, I was a compared to a over achiever jack russell with post surg. PT and was back to riding 4 months- with brace but listened to drs. and didn't jump for 10 more months until cadeaver graft was totally "healed"...Went back to competeting at and even rode at a T3d two years ago. Every knee is different.. but over and over again-- regardless of surgery or no surgery-- Drs. and PT said surgery is 10% of success and 90% is the work/PT patient puts into it.

Oct. 28, 2009, 09:15 AM
These replies are a nice example of how hugely variable this sort of injury can be! :) "Collateral damage" makes a big difference, as in whether or not the menisci or joint cartilage is also damaged, how much muscle you have, how much bleeding into the joint, etc.

Oct. 28, 2009, 02:17 PM
I ruptured my ACL and tore the meniscus so that some of the cartilage was between the two bones. It was very unstable, so that I fell quite often. However, once the bad swelling had gone down, I foxhunted for more than two years without surgery. I did modify my mounting and dismounting so that I always mounted from a mounting block; and I dismounted so my good leg always hit the ground first.

I really didn't find any difference in riding with a torn acl and a fixed one. I had a cadaver acl replacement.

Oct. 28, 2009, 05:54 PM
depends-I had a partial tear, didn't need surgury, refused to ride in a brace since well, it was impossible :lol: and it didn't slow me down a bit. That being said, I iced my knee after every time I rode and went through ALOT of advil. and there was a noticable difference once I went through the physical therapy

Oct. 28, 2009, 05:57 PM
use pain as an indicator.
if you can't stand the pain then you are doing more damage than good.
if it does not bother you then go for it. Just don't fall off in the process!

i rode with my knee jacked and then fell off and bonked myself stupid.
So my injured knee led to my first brain injury. nicccccce.

Oct. 28, 2009, 06:22 PM
As others have said, it totally depends on your own knee. I rode for 4 years with a torn ACL once the swelling was down and had no problems or pain while riding. I eventually had it reconstructed (using my patellar tendon) due to instability going down stairs and did the rehab for 9 months. It's stronger than ever now. Good luck with it!

Oct. 28, 2009, 06:26 PM
I completely blew out my knee several years ago while practicing martial arts. I partially tore the PCL, completely tore both the LCL and MCL, had a few tears in my meniscus and exploded the ACL. My doctor said he'd never seen anyone shred their knee that completely in his 30+ years of practicing (on the MRI cross sections you could see tiny fragments of ACL scattered around my knee, it looked like my knee was full of birdshot). My knee was basketball sized within half an hour despite being iced and I couldn't even touch my foot on the ground it was so painful. I remember trying to black out several times because the pain was so intense and not being able to - I have never felt such agonizing pain in my life and never want to again!

Even with a knee immobilizer, crutches and pain meds I couldn't "walk" for just over a week because of the pain. Long story short, I ended up having surgery to replace the ACL and went through extensive therapy afterwards. Because of the severity of the injury, I wasn't allowed to ride or participate in any type of contact sport or a sport where there would be any twisting/sudden turns for a year. Even after I was allowed back to riding I wasn't supposed to do anything other than w/t/c in an arena for several months. The theory was that I required time to build my riding muscles back up and needed to be in as safe footing as possible to avoid me falling and reinjuring the knee.

Four years later, I take an excellent glucosamine supplement, keep up with my knee strengthening/stretching and have complete range of motion/strength/stability back in my knee. I have noticed that if I miss my glucosamine or try and get by with a cheaper supplement I start to get issues with the flexibility and end up with a painful knee.

From my experience, don't disregard your doctor's advice, do any strengthening/stretching religiously and think about taking the best glucosamine supplement you can afford. Sometimes pain tells you to stop or take it easy, sometimes it's something you have to work through, but your doctor can help you tell the difference. Meniscus tears are not supposed to heal on their own, but when it came time for my surgery, mine had healed. My doctor and I both agree it's because of the glucosamine I was taking.

Oct. 28, 2009, 06:37 PM
I would either wrap it or buy a brace... but yeah, you can. I tore my ACL and MCL skiing (devil sport) and I rode 3 weeks later. I was doing PT at the time too, which I'm sure helped.

Oct. 28, 2009, 07:48 PM
How much more damage could you do if you fell off? That would be my biggest concern, I think..... other than that if it didn't hurt too much you'd probably be okay, but if it feels okay, it still might not be strong enough to withstand further insult....


Oct. 28, 2009, 11:25 PM
I laugh because I no longer have a "true" ACL. I have blown both ACL's in my knees and have had replacement sx on both.

I didn't read all the replies, have you decided whether to have sx yet?

The first one (left knee) was in 03- nice, it definitely was sore and blew up huge. But I went back to riding after a week. Surprisingly it didn't hurt when I was in the saddle jumping or dressage. I was also showing at training and intermediate levels within the next month. It hurt more when I was walking around, or any other type of work on the ground because having no ACL means your knee has no stability and will just give. It also hurt when rehabing because the physio thought he could simulate activites that were like riding- and they weren't. I blew the first one on April fools and had replacement sx in July of the same year. Rehabing sucked- but I would not have not done sx. As I said, I have has 2 sx. After sx, the doctor said no riding for 4 months, I was back in the saddle after 3 weeks, first flat work then jumping at the end of 5 weeks. It was easier to get in the saddle then it was to get off crutches.

The right ACL went at a jumper show in the middle of a round when I came off and landed on my feet exactly 2 years later. After walking out of the ring, I got back on, after I was cked out by the EMT, and rode a few jumps and went in and did another round- mind you I was in a little pain- just a tad, but rode thru it. And my knee blew up again for a few days and couldn't really use it- which sucked when you have to drive home from the show pulling a horse trailer with a standard truck- very interesting. Had the ACL repaired 3 months later- rehab and all again. Was back in the saddle in 4 weeks dressage and jumping xc the same week- yes, stupid to do so much, but no pain during, until after getting off the horse.

So overall, most of the pain from a torn ACL came when i was out of the saddle, not in, but you definitely feel a difference in your legs/ knees/ position once the ACL goes and you either ride with it torn or get it fixed. But the initial pain subsides and it doesn't hurt b/c of being in the saddle (okay the one time it hurt was when I went hunting and was in the same saddle for 5 hours stait).

One thing my doctor said that made me get the sx was that I was 20 at the time of the first ACL and he said it would be different if I was older and didn't need to worry about being as active as a 20 year old- so to do the sx.

Hope this helps. I have a cool scar on each knee. And I know when it is going to rain because my knees ache. Oh, and never try and land on your feet, which is how I blew both ACL's, now I try to land on my backside. I don't think i want to have a replacement sx for my replacement.

Oct. 29, 2009, 12:33 AM
I tore my ACL when I was in my early 30's, and a couple months after surgery started riding w/o stirrups.

Since then, I've re-torn it, AND torn the other one (bailing off the horse so I wouldn't fall on the left side where the old injury was...and I tore the RIGHT one!). My doc said I'm "too old" to do reconstructive surgery again, but that if I strengthen the muscles around the knee, I'll be ok. And I am! Two point is the BEST exercise for that. And I only have trouble w/ the knee when I don't ride regularly!

Regal Grace
Oct. 29, 2009, 11:50 AM
I agree with Deltawave. It really varies from person to person. While on a equestrian vacation in England (on the second day of my week long vacation) in June 2004, I tore my ACL jumping down a small bank on XC course. At first I thought I broke something but once I managed to get up and limp back to the lodge I figured it was bad muscle tear or ligament. My knee area swelled up so I iced it and took Advil. It was very uncomfortable but I could still gimp around with the occasional buckling of the knee. Since it was difficult to walk I decided to still go forward with the riding. The staff just spotted me so I could get on from the mounting block, and I used the block when I dismounted VERY CAREFULLY. This is not something I would recommend right after an ACL tear but being so far from home I was not going to check myself in hospital unless my leg was hanging off. Strangely enough, it was very comfortable to ride (doing lessons, hacking in the countryside and posting in the saddle too) and it reduced the swelling in my leg. Once I returned to my room and sat around for awhile the swelling and discomfort level returned.

When I returned home, I went straight to the hospital. X rays showed no bone break so then they did the MRI and found it was a full ACL tear on my right knee along with some meniscus damage. I still had the buckling problem so I went forward with plans for surgery. Before have surgery you go through P/T for an number of weeks. Strangely enough, the P/T stabilized my leg and no more buckling. As I got closer to the time for surgery both my parents were in and out of the hospital for major medical problems so I put off surgery and kept up with P/T. Things never really let up on the home front, I changed jobs and I did not want to have to take time off from my new job. I discussed my case with the Doctor. He no longer pushed for surgery since the leg had stabilized, I was not in major pain and had no plans to be involved in sports like Tennis, Skiing, Soccer (require lots of lateral movement). The Doctor did note over time my situation could change but too keep up with P/T and keep my weight down. Mind you my leg was still sore and improving but I did not get back into the saddle until November and it was light hacking and carefully dismounting. There was still a bit of ouch factor when I carefully dismounted but it went away by January. By no means is my right knee perfect. Every now and then I get twinge of pain, on certain days (cold weather or rainy) it feels stiff, sometimes I have limp, other days not. On a rare occasion I do get a strange wobble feeling left to right. But I can walk, do some running and I can horseback ride very comfortably. I am in my 40's and I suppose as I get older the wear and tear over time without the surgery may force me to rethink the surgery option. But if I can put it off I will. Whether you get the surgery or not, make sure you stick to the P/T routine they give you to stabilize your leg and not ride for awhile The P/T really does help. The irony of this event, was that everyone was so worried I would get hurt horseback riding but my most serious injury to date as been on my own two feet ; ) Good luck in whatever you decide to do.

Oct. 29, 2009, 12:13 PM
Totally depends on the severity of your tear and collateral damage, as many people have shown.

I tore about 10-15% of my right ACL three years ago while skiing. The knee was swollen and painful for 2 days, and my doctors decided against surgery. I rode as soon as the swelling went down; no problems riding without stirrups on the flat, but adding stirrups meant my knee started to ache after 20 minutes or so. With a brace I could flat with stirrups. About halfway through 3 months of extensive PT I could ride with short stirrups, and by the end of the summer I was jumping again in a knee brace. I used the brace for at least six months afterwards when jumping - probably longer than I needed to - and will still use it occasionally when my knee fells weak.

I used the Professional's Choice knee brace, which I liked a great deal - I put it on over my breeches to ride and found that it was flexible enough to do the job quite well.

Oct. 29, 2009, 12:14 PM
i have an MRI tomorrow.
I can walk on my knee i just cant make it straight or bend past 100degrees.
I will probably attempt to ride my horse tomorrow or saturday. He probably thinks he is on vacation...

Oct. 29, 2009, 08:52 PM
Before have surgery you go through P/T for an number of weeks. Strangely enough, the P/T stabilized my leg and no more buckling.

This is so very, very crucial. Devote yourself to the PT and GO HARD at it. Strong quads and hamstrings can often take the place of the ACL. I remember I was doing 250 pound leg presses a week before my surgery, it was awesome! I had quads like rocks. :D