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 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 leg buckles when you try to stand on it. The knee also swells. You also aren't able to move your knee as you normally would. You may also feel 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 about your health history and do a physical exam. You may also need 1 or both 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 in the body. It can often find damage or disease in bones and a surrounding ligament, tendon, or muscle.

How are knee ligament injuries treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

  • Treatment may include:
  • Pain medicine such as ibuprofen
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Protective knee brace
  • Ice pack to ease swelling
  • Surgery
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