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Torn ligaments in the knee are common sports injuries that are painful and often debilitating. Four ligaments support the knee joint, and these can stretch or tear due to strikes, forces, and abnormal movements.

Tears are the most serious injuries to knee ligaments, and often require surgery followed by physical therapy, rehabilitation, and rest. Being smart about injury prevention in sports can prevent a lot of discomfort and downtime.

Learning About Knee Ligaments

The knee is a large and complex joint, made up of bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. There are four ligaments in the knee that connect the bones in the joint and provide stability:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL is one of two cruciate ligaments inside the knee joint that connect the tibia (lower leg) and femur (thighbone). It is at the front of the knee and limits how far forward the tibia can move.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). The PCL is the other cruciate ligament. It sits behind the ACL and crosses it like an X. It stops the knee joint from shifting too far back.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL). The MCL is one of two collateral ligaments, which stabilize the sides of the knee. It links the femur and tibia on the inside of the knee.
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL). The LCL is the other collateral ligament and is situated on the outside of the knee joint. Together, the MCL and LCL prevent the knee from moving too much from side to side.

The four ligaments all work together to keep the joint stable. They prevent it from moving in a direction or in a twisting motion that could be painful or damaging. They also keep the bones aligned properly, and also absorb shock during impacts.

How Do Knee Ligaments Get Injured?

Excessive force on the knee can injure the ligaments, spraining or tearing them. A sprain is a stretch that often heals with rest and time. A torn ligament is a more serious injury that often requires surgery to repair.

The ACL and MCL locations mean that they are more often injured during sports activities. Sports that require a lot of pivoting and changing direction—soccer, basketball, football—put the ACL at risk of injury. Strikes to the outside of the knee, which can occur in contact sports like football, can injure the MCL.

Blows to the front of the knee can lead to PCL injuries. This can happen in sports, but is also seen in car accidents. An MCL or ACL tear vs a PCL tear is more likely sports-related. LCL tears result from a blow to the inside of the joint. These injuries are much less common than damage to the other ligaments.

ACL Tear vs. Meniscus Tear

ACL and meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries. The meniscus is not the same as a ligament. It is a piece of rubbery cartilage on the inside and outside of the joint that absorbs impact and shares load in the knee.Both the ACL and meniscus can be injured or torn playing sports that require twisting and changing direction. An ACL tear is usually a more serious injury. It more often requires surgical treatment and longer recovery. It can cause more instability in the joint than a meniscus tear.

How to Prevent Torn Ligaments

Treatment and recovery from knee ligament tears can be invasive and lengthy. It’s much better to prevent these injuries than to have to cope with them:

  • If you or your child play seasonal sports, stay active year-round. Long breaks weaken muscles and can lead to injuries when you start up again.
  • Vary your sports and exercises with an emphasis on whole-body strength.
  • Avoid contact sports if possible. Blows to the knees can cause ligament tears.
  • Warm-up before engaging in risky sports or any type of workout.
  • For children, ensure they wear the right safety gear and have appropriate shoes for their sport.
  • Make sure your child is well-conditioned for the sports they play.

Treatments for Knee Ligament Tears

Orthopedic specialists diagnose knee injuries, grade the severity, and suggest treatments. ACL tears typically require surgery to reconstruct the ligament to provide stability to the knee. For lower-grade or less severe sprains of the MCL, LCL and PCL, rest, immobilization, and physical therapy may be adequate for healing in most instances.

Arthroscopic procedures are minimally invasive and require less recovery time than open surgery.

Surgeons repair ligament tears using a tissue graft. It acts like a scaffold on which new tissue can grow to replace the torn ligament. This kind of reconstructive surgery takes a lot of healing time, up to nine to twelve months. Patients also participate in rehabilitation after surgery, usually physical therapy and targeted strength training.

A knee ligament tear is a serious injury, but with the right orthopedic surgeons, you can be back to activities sooner. Request an appointment online with one of our knee orthopedic joint specialists or call 984.666.2201 to schedule.

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