The knee is composed of four ligaments, each of which plays an integral role in the flexibility and mobility of the knee. Any ligament can become torn, sprained, or strained through excessive use, impact, overextension, or other forms of stress on the knee. A torn knee ligament can vary in severity from a small tear to a debilitating injury. Athletes are highly susceptible to torn ligaments because they frequently overexert their knees through intensive physical activity.
Ligaments of the Knee
There are four ligaments within the knee, each of which can become stretched or ruptured as a result of injury. The ligaments can experience both strains and tears, and it’s important to distinguish between the two. Most strains and sprains can be remedied at home without the need for surgery. Tears, on the other hand, will often require surgery to fully heal.
- Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL): An ACL injury is one of the most common knee injuries. It typically affects soccer players and basketball players and is generally a result of non-contact injuries.
- Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL): PCL injuries are less common among athletes, but they can still happen. They are most often the result of impact or a blow to the knee.
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The LCL is the ligament on the outside of the knee. It can be torn both through impact and overstretching and is a common sports injury. It occurs when the knee is overextended or bent inwards.
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL): The MCL is the ligament on the inside of the knee. It’s typically caused by a contact injury, such as a severe blow to the knee or a fall.
Causes of Knee Ligament Injuries
There are a few different ways in which a person could experience a knee ligament injury. Knee injuries are most common among athletes. However, they can also occur during car accidents or any other physically jarring encounter.
- If intense force or pressure is applied to the knee, such as a blow to the knee or a fall, then a torn ligament may occur.
- Ligaments are frequently torn due to twisting of the knee, bending the knee in the wrong direction, or overextending the knee.
- Sports that involve a lot of running or leg movement increase your chance of ligament tears.
- PCL tears are common in car accidents because the knees often collide with the dashboard.
Symptoms of Torn Ligaments
There are a variety of symptoms to look out for when determining whether you’ve experienced a torn ligament. If you experience most or all of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
- Significant swelling in the knee.
- A popping sound at the time that the injury occurs.
- Soreness in the knee that is painful to the touch.
- Inability to put weight on the knee or the feeling that your leg could give out when walking.
- Inability to fully extend your leg as usual.
- In select cases, bruising may occur on or around the knee.
For athletes, suffering a ligament tear can bring their athletic endeavors to a screeching halt. Luckily, there are treatment options available that can fully restore the mobility and stability of your knee. If you suffer from a torn ACL, there are alternatives to surgery that may be able to help you recover. In the event you only have a partial ACL tear, or it appears you have minimal instability in the leg, it’s likely the doctor will recommend regular physical therapy as a road to rehabilitation. In addition to your physical therapy, the doctor will have you wear a hinged knee brace as the knee heals. Full rehabilitation is often successful for people with minor ligament tears.
In more severe cases, surgery may be inevitable. Your ACL reconstruction surgery cost will vary, but will likely fall in the range of $20,000 to $50,000. Keep in mind, your insurance will likely cover most, if not all of the cost. Arthroscopic ACL surgery is a standard procedure where the joint in your knee will be observed through the use of a small camera. An incision will be cut on your knee, and the camera will be inserted under the skin. This will give the doctor a clear view of your knee joint and tissue, enabling them to easily remove and repair any damaged tissue inside.
The time of your recovery will depend on your level of commitment to the physical therapy, but it is estimated to take about six months for full recovery. After the procedure is complete, you will need to use crutches for one to two weeks, until you are able to start applying more pressure to your leg. You’ll then be partnered with a physical therapist that will help you along. It’s essential to follow all instructions of the physical therapist and to never overwork your knee during the healing process. Overuse may result in re-injury, which will only set your recovery time back further.
First two weeks: You’ll need to spend this time focusing on reducing the swelling as much as possible. Ice the knee at least four times per day for at least 15 minutes each time. Keep the leg elevated at heart level as much as is feasible. For the first two weeks of recovery, you will be unable to drive.
Two to six weeks: At this point, you’ll begin working on light strength training in the leg and regaining full mobility of your knee. You can begin light cardio exercise, such as walking on a treadmill or elliptical machine, to help regain confidence in your knee. You should have regained enough flexibility to be able to safely drive.
Six weeks to four months: You’ll now increase the weight of your strength training. Around the three-month point, you can begin running on your knee again. The harder you train now, the sooner you will be able to make a full return to sports.
Six months: Provided you have followed all physical therapy requirements, you should be ready to use your knee as usual. Your knee is now strong enough to make a full return to sports.
While a ligament tear can seem like a devastating injury, there are treatment options available that will enable a full recovery. Provided you seek a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis, follow all of their treatment advice, and fulfill your recovery recommendations, your knee will return back to normal within six months.