Damage to the knee ligaments is one of the most common types of sports injury and is most often associated with sports such as Skiing, rugby and football.
The knee joint is one of the most active joints in the body, whether we are walking, running or even getting in and out of a chair.
Each time we move there are forces which pass through the knee joint and the amount of force depends on the activity being undertaken i.e. walking will not create as much force as running or jumping.
Because our knees are so important any strain or injury can have an impact on our mobility and be quite painful.
The knee joins the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The kneecap (patella) and the second bone of the lower leg (fibula) also form part of the joint. Four ligaments work to keep the knee stable.
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is connected to the femur and tibia in the front part of the joint, this prevents the lower leg from sliding forward. ACL injuries can be caused with a change of direction, deceleration and landing from a jump.
To prevent the tibia from sliding backwards the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) is located behind the ACL and again connects to the femur and tibia. A blow to the front of the knee can cause PCL injuries.
There are ligaments on either side of the knee joint, with the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) on the inside and the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) on the outside.
These ligaments help to prevent sideways movement at the joint; the MCL is more commonly injured from any movement which forces the foot outwards and knee in.
Where the femur and tibia meet there is a layer of cartilage called meniscus. This absorbs some of the force which passes through the joint and protects the bones.
The degeneration of this meniscus is the cause of pain and stiffness suffered by people with Osteoarthritis. The structure of the knee and the large forces passing through the joint make it susceptible to injury.
Managing knee ligament damage
The severity of your injury will determine the treatment options available, which is why a professional diagnosis is essential in the first instance as ligament damage is graded from between one and three in terms of severity.
Grade one is considered a sprain where the ligament has been slightly stretched beyond its normal range of motion and whilst painful and the patient may experience inflammation there is still stability in the joint.
This is typically self-limiting and following a period of rest, the use of a knee support and strengthening exercises you should get back to full fitness.
A grade two strain is where the ligament is stretched to the point where it becomes loose or a mild tear has been incurred. This can require surgery to remedy, but strengthening exercises and rest are important to enhance stability.
A ligament knee support can also be used to help offer additional stability when active during your recovery.
A grade three refers to a complete tear resulting in the ligament being split into two pieces and a complete lack of stability in the joint. This is the most serious of injuries and can occur for a number of reasons.
According to the NHS, ACL injuries in the UK account for around 40% of all sports injuries and is the most common of all knee ligament injuries.
Where there is a complete rupture surgery is often required to either repair or replace the ligament which is done by taking a graft from the hamstring or groin.
It is possible however to be ACL deficient by building muscle in the quads which can help overcome the instability.
Following recovery from surgery intensive therapy is required to help rebuild strength in the joint with a variety of knee support products are available depending on your needs.
If you are returning to non-extreme sports then a soft ligament knee support can offer benefits in compression and stability, with the straps acting as external ligaments.
For the extreme sports enthusiast many opt to wear a rigid knee support which offers stability as well as protection against impact damage.
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