Trauma can cause injury to the ligaments on the inner portion of the knee (medial collateral ligament), the outer portion of the knee (lateral collateral ligament), or within the knee (cruciate ligaments). One will experience immediate pain for such injuries which are sometimes difficult to localise.
Usually, a collateral ligament injury is felt on the inner or outer portions of the knee. A collateral ligament injury is often associated with local tenderness over the area of the ligament involved.
A cruciate ligament injury is felt deep within the knee. It is sometimes noticed with a "popping" sensation with the initial trauma. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most commonly injured ligaments of the knee, especially in sports such as basketball and football. The ACL stabilises the knee for cutting, twisting and jumping and pivoting activity. The anterior cruciate ligament is in the center of the knee joint. When you tear an ACL, you will often feel or hear a pop, feel the knee shift out of place and develop significant swelling in just a few hours.
A ligament injury to the knee is usually painful at rest and may be swollen and warm. The pain usually worsens if one bends, puts weight on the knee or walks. The severity of the injury can vary from mild (minor stretching or tearing of the ligament fibres, such as a low grade sprain) to severe (complete tear of the ligament fibers). Patients can have more than one area injured in a single traumatic event.
Ligament injuries are initially treated with ice packs and immobilisation, with rest and elevation. We generally recommend that patients avoid bearing weight on the injured joint, and use crutches for walking, if necessary. Some patients are placed in splints or braces to immobilise the joint to reduce the pain and promote healing. Arthroscopic or open surgery may be necessary to repair severe injuries.
Surgical repair of ligaments can involve suturing alone, grafting, and synthetic graft repair. These procedures can be done by either open knee surgery or arthroscopic surgery. The type of surgery depends on the level of damage to the ligaments and the activity expectations of the patient. Many repairs can now be done arthroscopically. However, certain severe injuries will require an open surgical repair. Reconstruction procedures for cruciate ligaments are increasingly successful with current surgical techniques.
Watch this video to learn more about anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery:
Watch this 3D animation video to learn about what happens during an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery:
Watch the following three videos to learn about the rehabilitation exercises to do after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery: