Athletes and people who exercise regularly are susceptible to a variety of knee injuries that may damage the ligaments surrounding the knee; these supportive ligaments are crucial in protecting the joint against abnormal types of motion. The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the human body. It is made up of various components that make it prone to injury. Below we briefly discuss some of the most common types of knee injuries.
An important structure in the knee is the meniscus, which acts as a cushion and shock absorber during motion. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries doctors see. Exercises or activities that cause a forceful twisting or rotational motion can lead to a tear in the meniscus. A torn meniscus can incite the inflammatory cascade and may eventually lead to development of osteoarthritis. With a torn meniscus one can experience pain with swelling and stiffness. Your knee may feel weak and that it is going to collapse. Minor tears can heal with rest, ice, medication, and time. In serious cases, surgery to mend the tear may be required, although recent studies have demonstrated that a knee-specific physical therapy program is just as effective as surgery.
A tear or rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is unfortunately a very common injury in athletes. The ACL is crucial in providing stability to the knee joint. Typically one will injure their ACL during sports or events that involve sudden stops and change in motion, such as basketball, soccer, tennis, or volleyball. Common symptoms one may experience with an ACL injury is swelling, popping, and the knee may feel weak or unstable. Depending on the severity of the ACL injury, treatment may require surgical repair of the torn ligament, followed by physical therapy to help strengthen and stabilize the knee. ACL injuries are commonly associated with development of osteoarthritis.
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the four major ligaments crucial to knee stability. The MCL is susceptible to injury when the outside of the knee joint is struck, as happens frequently during a tackling move in football. A force like this causes the inside (medial part) of the joint to widen; when the MCL is stretched too far, it can partially tear or, in severe cases, completely rupture. When an MCL tear occurs most patients can experience pain directly over the ligament, swelling and bruising can take place 1 – 2 days post injury. Most patients are effectively treated with physical therapy, rest and icing.
A knee strain is one of the most common knee injuries. A strain can happen when one overstretches the ligaments and a partial tear occurs. This can happen during and activity where the knee is twisting or turning in a sudden, forceful movement. Knee sprains most often result from a previous injury, overuse of the knee, improper balance or joint mechanics, decreased flexibility, posture, or incorrect footwear. The best care for a knee sprain involves RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), and reduced activity during the recovery and healing process. If pain persists for more than a week, a torn ligament or meniscus may be present and further evaluation is warranted.