Knee ligament injury

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A ligament tear of the knee occurs when an excessive strain is placed across the knee overloading the supporting ligament, resulting in damage and pain.

Ligaments are the names given to strong bands of connective tissue which run through our joints to help provide strength and stability. The knee has four main ligaments:

  • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) helps to prevent the knee from over-rotating and helps to limit forward movement of the tibia on the femur
  • The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) helps to prevent the knee from over-rotating and helps to limit backwards movement of the tibia on the femur
  • The medial collateral ligament (MCL) supports the inner side of the knee
  • The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) supports the outer side of the knee

Knee ligament injuries most commonly occur from trauma such as when playing sports requiring rapid changes of direction such as football, rugby and netball or during tackling.

How are knee ligament injuries treated?

Acute phase management

MICE = Movement, Ice, Compression, Elevation

Acute phase management is aimed at reducing swelling and alleviating pain to allow rehabilitation to commence as early as possible following injury. The following self-help videos explain how to safely follow a MICE routine after an injury:

Ongoing non-surgical management

Ongoing management requires a supervised rehabilitation program of exercises to ensure the knee restores its full range of motion and to ensure appropriate grading of strengthening and coordination exercises are undertaken. The exercises below are a guide to the type of rehabilitation indicated. In significant ligament injuries it is important to seek professional advice to ensure the correct exercises are being performed at the right stage of rehabilitation.

Regular exercises to maintain flexibility and strength to the affected knee joint:

5×30 second holds, 2x per day
3×10 repetitions 3-4x per week
3×10 repetitions 3-4x per week

Surgical management

Surgery is rarely required to repair the medial and lateral collateral ligaments which normally respond well to rehabilitation. For anterior cruciate ligament injuries, ligament reconstruction is an effective option if instability or a “giving way” of the knee continues in spite of undergoing a supervised rehabilitation regime.