Our knees have a complex structure and carry much of our weight. Therefore, knee injuries, especially among athletes, are very common.
Four separate ligaments stabilize the knee joint: the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).
The MCL and LCL stabilize the knee during side-to-side movements. The ACL stabilizes the femur on the tibia and prevents the tibia from rotating and sliding forward. The PCL prevents the tibia from sliding backward.
Knee ligament injuries can come in various stages of severity, and are rated appropriately as Grade I sprain, Grade II sprain, or Grade III tear (complete ligament tear). ACL tears are usually complete tears and cause immediate swelling. MCL tears are fairly common and are usually classified as Grade I or Grade II in severity.
Symptoms of MCL Injury
The most common symptom of medial collateral ligament injury is pain directly over the ligament. Swelling may appear, and often times people experience bruising a day or two after the injury. In severe MCL injuries, people may feel that their knee is unstable, as if it might “give out.”
Symptoms of ACL Injury
Injuries to the ACL may or may not cause pain immediately, but a popping noise might occur and your knee may give out. Swelling will occur between 2-12 hours. Within a few hous after a new ACL injury, people often have a large amount of knee swelling, and may not be able to move their knee very easily. People often experience pain or tenderness, and discomfort while standing or walking.
Symptoms of PCL injury
PCL injuries cause swelling within 3 hours of injury. Pain, difficulty walking are often common after a PCL injury. In addition, people may feel that they have an unstable knee.
ACL Treatment Options
The treatment for ACL injuries depend on the severity of the tear, as well as your age and activity level. Non-surgical treatment may be sufficient. In this case, your physician may recommend physical therapy and/or using a brace.
Many individuals who incur an ACL injury will need reconstructive surgery. The torn ACL is generally replaced by a substitute graft made of tendon. This surgery is performed arthroscopically. Surgery is followed by an exercise and rehabilitation program to strengthen the muscles and restore full joint mobility.
MCL/LCL Treatment Options
Treatment for MCL tears is generally non-surgical, and will commonly include rest, icing, and anti-inflammatory medication. Physical therapy and/or bracing may be recommended.
Isolated partial LCL injuries, which are less frequent, are also most often treated non-surgically.
PCL Treatment Options
Your surgeon will determine the type of treatment necessary, but it depends on what kind of injury you’ve sustained. For partial or isolated PCL tears, treatment is generally non-surgical and will include rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Anti-inflammatory drugs and/or physical therapy to strengthen your quadriceps muscle may be recommended.
Patients with combined PCL injuries often require surgery to stabilize the knee. Arthroscopic surgery is used to identify and repair damage to the cartilage. Completely torn posterior cruciate ligaments may be reconstructed using an autograft (your own tissue) or allograft (cadaver tissue).
If you have recently incurred a knee injury, it’s best to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. We can properly diagnose you and provide appropriate treatment options.