Fall sports have a tendency to have the highest number of ACL and meniscus tears on average compared to any other sports seasons. Between football, soccer, volleyball, cross country, and off-season basketball, physical therapy clinics are swarming with ACL and meniscus tears.
Both, ACL and meniscus, will likely result in a decreased range of motion, excessive swelling, and pain on occurrence; although some people state that they had no pain at the time of the initial tear - simply just heard a "pop".
The huge difference will be visible at around 24 hours after the tear. Aside from the initial pain, most ambulation impairments (troubles walking) on flat ground are going to be from self-preservation for an ACL tear. In other words, if you're limping more than 24-48 hours following an ACL tear, it's likely as a result from your being cautious, as opposed to your actual injury causing pain. Many ACL tears we see only have problems ascending stairs, jogging, or walking downhill but can walk up hills and on flat roads without an increase in pain. A meniscus tear, on the other hand, will cause fairly severe pain even just standing on it.
The reason they have this huge symptomatic difference is due to each of their respective anatomical locations. While the ACL is a ligament connecting the backside of the femur (thigh bone) to the front of the tibia (shin bone) helps to support the knee joint by protecting the femur from moving too far forward during deceleration (stopping quickly, ascending stairs, lateral movements), the menisci (2 per knee) sit on the tibia and are used as a form of biological padding to protect the tibia from colliding with the femur. When a meniscus is torn, putting pressure on it in many forms can cause severe pain, as there is not only a torn tissue, but also there is no longer much support between those two bones when standing, walking, and even sitting, or bending the knees while laying down, depending on where the tear is located.
This excess in pain is likely going to cause an increase in swelling for a longer period of time than that of an ACL. The process of inflammation takes 7 days to complete, but increases in pain is correlated with increases in bloodflow, with is correlated with increases in inflammation. Essentially, it's a repetitive cycle that typically results in higher levels of swelling for longer periods of time following an initial injury.
More questions? Come see us at Champion Performance and Physical Therapy at 7510 State Line Road, Suite A in Prairie Village!