Knee Ligament Injuries

What are knee ligament injuries?

Knee ligaments are the short bands of tough, flexible connective
tissue that hold the knee together. Knee ligament injuries can be caused by trauma,
such as a car accident. Or they can be caused by sports injuries. An example is a
twisting knee injury in basketball or skiing.

The knee has 4 major ligaments. Ligaments connect bones to each
other. They give the joint stability and strength. The 4 knee ligaments connect the
thighbone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). They are:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament
    (ACL).
    This ligament is in the center of the knee. It controls rotation
    and forward movement of the shin bone.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament
    (PCL).
    This ligament is in the back of the knee. It controls backward
    movement of the shin bone.
  • Medial collateral ligament
    (MCL).
    This ligament gives stability to the inner knee.
  • Lateral collateral ligament
    (LCL).
    This ligament gives stability to the outer knee.

What causes knee ligament injuries?

Cruciate ligaments

The ACL is one of the most common ligaments to be injured. The
ACL is often stretched or torn during a sudden twisting motion. This is when the
feet stay planted one way, but the knees turn the other way. Slowing down while
running or landing from a jump incorrectly can cause ACL injuries.  Skiing,
basketball, and football are sports that have a higher risk for ACL
injuries.

The PCL is also a common ligament to become injured in the
knee. But a PCL injury usually occurs with sudden, direct hit, such as in a car
accident or during a football tackle.

Collateral ligaments

The MCL is injured more often than the LCL. Stretch and tear
injuries to the collateral ligaments are usually caused by a blow to the outer
side of the knee. This can happen when playing hockey or football.

What are the symptoms of knee ligament injuries?

Cruciate injury

A cruciate ligament injury often causes pain. Often you may
hear a popping sound when the injury happens. Then your buckles when you try to
stand on it. The knee also swells. You also are not able to move your knee as
you normally would. You may also pain along the joint and pain when
walking. 

The symptoms of a cruciate ligament injury may seem like other
health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Collateral ligament injury

An injury to the collateral ligament also causes the knee to
pop and buckle. It also causes pain and swelling. Often you will have pain at
the sides of the knee and swelling over the injury site. If it is an MCL injury,
the pain is on the inside of the knee. An LCL injury may cause pain on the
outside of the knee. The knee will also feel unstable, like it is going to give
way.

How are knee ligament injuries diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you have your health history and
do a physical exam. You may also needs one or more of these tests:

  • X-ray. This imaging test
    can rule out an injury to bone instead of a ligament injury. It uses energy
    beams to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.
  • MRI. This test uses large
    magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and
    structures within the body. It can often find damage or disease in bones and a
    surrounding ligament, tendon, or muscle.
  • Arthroscopy. This
    procedure is used to diagnose and treat joint problems. The healthcare provider
    uses a small, lighted tube (arthroscope) put into the joint through a small cut
    (incision). Images of the inside of the joint can be seen a screen. The
    procedure can assess joint problems, find bone diseases and tumors, and find the
    cause of bone pain and inflammation.