Knee Ligament Injuries
Are You Experiencing Knee Pain and Stiffness?
The orthopedic doctors and sports medicine experts at Westchester Sport and Spine are here to help you with your knee pain. With 40 years of combined experience diagnosing knee pain and treating knee injuries, the fellowship trained specialists at Westchester Sport and Spine provide you with the highest level of care for surgical and non-surgical knee procedures.
About Knee Ligament Injuries
The knee is one of the largest and most frequently used joints in the body, making it prone to injury and degeneration over time based on age, activity level, and certain medical conditions. The knee joint is comprised of several components, including the bony surfaces of the tibia (shin bone), femur (thigh bone), and patella (kneecap). In order to make movement of the knee joint smooth, stable, and painless, the knee also has ligaments, as well as menisci, which can become damaged through an injury.
There are several ligaments found in the knee, each with an important duty to keep the joint stable. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) both prevent the tibia and femur from sliding backward or forward on each other. Similarly, the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) stabilize the knee so that the femur and tibia cannot slide from side to side.
If any of the ligaments in the knee joint are injured, whether they are partially or fully torn, it is important to see medical care immediately as ligaments are not well vascularized and, therefore, have difficulty healing properly. Over time, if a knee ligament injury is ignored, further complications and injury may occur.
Types of Knee Ligament Injuries
Since the knee is a large and complex joint, there are several types of knee ligament injuries that could occur, each with varying degrees of seriousness. As it can be difficult to diagnose a specific knee injury without examination by a skilled professional, it is important for those experiencing knee pain to seek medical attention as soon as possible to have the best possible outcome and recovery from a knee ligament injury.
Full Knee Ligament Tears vs Partial Knee Ligament Tears
Knee ligament injuries most commonly fall into two categories of severity: a full knee ligament tear or a partial knee ligament tear. It is important to keep in mind that ligaments across the entire body do not receive a lot of blood flow, making healing from ligament tears a difficult process that requires professional care.
A full tear (also known as a Grade 3 Sprain) occurs when the ligament is completely torn or severed, either at the base where it connects to a bone or elsewhere along its length. Many patients report feeling a sudden, sharp pain and a “pop” when they experience a full tear. In these cases, there may also be a portion of the ligament that is “floating,” or completely detached. For patients presenting with a full knee ligament tear, surgery is often the only option to repair this injury.
In cases where a patient experiences a partial knee ligament tear (also known as a Grade 2 Sprain), the ligament has become stretched, damaged, and perhaps partially torn to the point where that ligament is much more prone to a full tear if another incident were to occur.
Patients with partial knee ligament tears may experience pain, swelling, and a limited range of motion while they are going through the healing process. As this type of injury is less severe, surgery may be avoided through a careful recovery process and rehabilitation regimen.
The third type of knee ligament injury is considered a “Grade 1 Sprain,” where the ligament has been slightly damaged but can still hold the knee joint in place with reliable stability.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries
An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most commonly reported knee ligament injuries to occur. This ligament connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, making it integral to keeping the knee joint stable. Oftentimes, orthopedic surgeons will perform what is known as the “Anterior Drawer Test” to determine whether the ACL has been damaged, during which the knee may slide forward significantly past a normal range.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injuries
The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is another frequently injured ligament of the knee. Most commonly, the PCL is injured when someone falls on a bent knee or if their knee is impacted during a sports or car accident. Any activity that involves landing and sliding on the knees also carries the risk of causing a PCL injury. However, patients don’t often experience a popping sensation with this injury, making it difficult to assess the severity of the tear unless they are seen by a professional.
Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Injuries
Injuries to the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) are not seen as commonly as ACL and PCL injuries, but this ligament has an important role in stabilizing the outer part of the knee joint. Football and hockey players are most commonly affected by this injury as falling from an impact with another player frequently causes the knee to overextend to the side, resulting in an LCL tear. Depending on the severity of the LCL tear, patients may have to undergo rest, physical therapy, or surgery.
Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) provides stability to the inside of your knee, preventing it from bending too far inward. When injured, this ligament may become too stretched, torn, or completely torn, resulting in pain and difficulty moving the knee. Like other knee ligament injuries, a regimen of rest, physical therapy, and conservative treatment methods may be recommended for less severe injuries, while tears that are severe or don’t respond to conservative methods may require surgery.
Symptoms of Knee Ligament Injuries
In some cases, patients may report the sudden onset of pain or a “pop” when they tear a knee ligament. Depending on the severity of the injury, there may be immediate or delayed-onset swelling, bruising, and a restricted range of motion.
Following a knee ligament injury, the joint may become less stable. In ACL injuries, a doctor’s examination may uncover unnatural sliding within the knee that points to the anterior cruciate ligament being injured.
The most common symptoms of knee ligament injuries include:
- Sudden pain
- Popping sensation
Knee Ligament Injury Treatment Options
Whenever possible, the professional orthopedic surgeons at Westchester Sport and Spine choose to use conservative options to provide relief to patients with knee ligament injuries. However, in severe cases, surgery may be the best or only option to provide pain relief and improve mobility following a knee ligament injury.
Conservative Treatments for Knee Ligament Injuries
If your knee ligament injury has been deemed less severe, conservative treatment options may be employed first. This includes, but is not limited to, rest, using braces or crutches, physical and occupational therapy, NSAIDs, anti-inflammatory medications, or cortisone steroid injections.
Surgical Treatments for Knee Ligament Injuries
When a patient has a severe or complete tear of one of their knee ligaments, surgery may be the best or only option. Since ligaments are not supplied with a rich blood supply, it is less likely for severe injuries to heal properly on their own. Arthroscopic, or minimally-invasive, surgery may be a good option for many patients who are seeking shorter recovery times. However, your Westchester Sport and Spine surgeon will discuss the specific surgical options available, including whether or not an open procedure is necessary and if a graft must be used to repair the ligament.
Call Us Immediately
If your knee pain has been caused by an injury and is accompanied by any of the symptoms below, please call us immediately and have someone drive you to our clinic.
- Your knee appears deformed
- Inability to use your knee or extend your leg
- Intense pain
- Sudden swelling