Ligaments are dense, fibrous bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones to form a joint and provide stability and strength to the joint. In the knee there are four major ligaments that connect the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone):
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): The ligament in the center of the knee that controls rotation and forward movement of the tibia
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): The ligament in the back of the knee that controls backward movement of the tibia
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL): The ligament that stabilizes the inner knee
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The ligament that stabilizes the outer knee
The ACL is the most commonly injured knee ligament. Injuries usually occur when the ACL is stretched and/or torn during a sudden twisting motion in which the feet stay planted while the knees turn another way—a common move in skiing, basketball and football.
PCL injuries generally occur with sudden, direct impact, such as in a motor vehicle accident or during a football tackle.
The collateral ligaments are also subject to stretch-and-tear injuries, usually caused by a blow to the side of the knee, such as when playing hockey or football.
With a ligament injury to the knee, you may hear a popping sound when the injury occurs, accompanied by pain and rapid swelling. Also, your leg may buckle when you try to stand on it. But symptoms can vary from person to person.
Treatment depends on the severity of a knee ligament injury. A severe tear will not heal on its own, which is why it’s important to see an orthopaedics specialist for a timely evaluation and appropriate treatment after a ligament injury to the knee.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Ligament Injuries to the Knee
Cooper has a team of board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedic specialists as well as three sports medicine specialists—all with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ligament injuries to the knee. You can count on us for:
- Fast access: Our policy is to see sports-related injuries within 24 to 48 hours
- Advanced expertise: As South Jersey’s only tertiary care facility, we see the region’s most complex cases—a level of expertise you simply won’t find anyplace else in this area
- Personalized treatment: Treatment is based on your age, general health, lifestyle, and severity of symptoms, with a focus on relieving pain and restoring mobility in the least invasive way possible
- Extensive physical rehabilitation resources: We have an entire team of skilled physical therapists to help you regain your strength and mobility after a ligament injury to the knee
Causes and Risk factors for Ligament Injuries to the Knee
Ligament injuries most frequently occur as a result of sports and fitness activities that put stress on the knee—an awkward landing after jumping, for example, or pivoting with your feet firmly planted. A direct blow to the knee—such as in a car accident—is another common cause.
Factors that increase the risk of a ligament injury to the knee—especially the ACL—include:
- Gender: Being female increases the risk of injury due to anatomical, muscle strength and hormonal differences
- Sports participation: People who play football, soccer and basketball or do downhill skiing and gymnastics are particularly prone to knee ligament injuries
- Poor physical conditioning
- Poor-fitting footwear
- Poorly maintained sports equipment
- Playing sports on artificial turf
Symptoms of Ligament Injuries to the Knee
The symptoms of an injury to a knee ligament are hard to ignore. You’re likely to experience:
- A popping sensation in the knee—which you may hear as well as feel
- Severe pain that prevents you from continuing your activity
- Rapid swelling of the affected knee
- Limited range of motion
- Inability to put weight on the affected leg; it feels unstable
Treating Knee Ligament Injuries
Treatment depends on how severe your knee injury is. A more serious injury is when there is a partial or complete tear of the tissue and may require surgery to repair or replace it. With a milder injury, the ligament may be stretched but still intact, and more conservative measures may provide relief while you heal. Treatment may include:
- Self-care measures, including R.I.C.E. (resting the affected knee, icing it to reduce swelling, compression and elevating the affected limb)
- Medicine such as ibuprofen to control inflammation and relieve pain
- Physical rehabilitation to regain muscle strength and prevent future injuries
- Wearing a protective knee brace during exercise
- Minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery to repair or replace the damaged ligament