Treatment for Knee Ligament Injury

Symptoms of knee ligament injury

Oftentimes in the case of an injury to a soft tissue structure in the body, the pain experienced can be more intense than a broken bone.  The symptoms of a knee ligament injury may at times cause much more pain and disability than a fracture.  But this is not always the case.  It all depends on the location and severity of the injury.  This is why a proper, accurate diagnosis is the key in determining the best treatment of the affected structure.

There are four major ligaments in the knee.  These are the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament), and the LCL (lateral collateral ligament).  The ACL runs from and connects the bottom, back of the thigh bone (femur) to the top, front of the shin bone (tibia).  The PCL runs opposite of this, connecting the bones from the bottom, front of the femur to the top, back of the tibia.  These ligaments cross each other in the knee. The MCL and LCL connect the sides of the bottom of the thigh bone to the tops of the lower leg bones.

When one or more of these ligaments are injured, you will most likely know immediately.  An injury to one of these ligaments will often cause sharp, immediate pain and a lack of stability.  When walking and running, the knees are bearing the weight of the entire body.  In order to withstand these forces combined with the force associated with ‘pounding the pavement’ means that these ligaments must be very strong.  When one of these ligaments is compromised, it will cause significant changes to your gait.  Symptoms of a knee ligament injury may include:

  • Severe pain at the site of injury
  • Pain located on the inner, outer, or sides of your knee depending on which ligament(s) may be damaged
  • Stiffness and loss of range of motion of the knee
  • A ‘popping’ sound may have been heard at the time of injury
  • Swelling, erythema (reddening of skin), and warmth around the knee joint
  • Bruising may be noticed
  • A feeling of instability or looseness in the knee joint when attempting to walk or bear any weight on the affected knee

Knee joint model in medical office

How to treat knee ligament injury

Treatment for a knee ligament injury depends on several factors.  These are the severity of the injury, the age of the patient, the kinds of activities that the patient is expecting to return to, and the pain and disability the injury is causing.  A personalized treatment plan will be decided upon between yourself and Dr. Burke which will take into account your personal preferences along with any underlying medical conditions.  With all of this information, Dr. Burke will advise you as to the optimal treatment strategy for your injury.  You will most likely require an MRI of your knee in order to determine the exact location and severity of injury.

Immediately following injury, prior to seeing your doctor, you will want to apply the RICE protocol to the knee.  RICE stands for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation, when elevating the leg, be sure to lie back and elevate the leg so that the injury is above the level of the heart in order to help facilitate blood flow

In some cases, the area will be treated successfully with conservative measures.  This will involve a course of physical therapy which will include specific exercises targeted at strengthening the leg.  Modalities that aid healing of the tissue will also be used and may allow for enough recuperation of the ligament and a return to normal function.

More often than not, surgical intervention will be required after a knee ligament injury in order to repair the tissue.  After surgery, you will not be allowed to bear weight on the knee for a time and a course of physical therapy will again be involved.  In therapy, you will be prescribed specific sets of exercises that will be progressed at certain stages of healing in order to restore range of motion, strength, and function of the leg.

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