What is a knee ligament injury?
A ligament is a band of tissue that attached two bones of a joint together to prevent excessive movement of one bone on the other. There are four main ligaments at the knee that can be injured; two which are outside (extra-articular) the joint (medial collateral and lateral collateral), and two inside (intra-articular) the knee joint (anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments). There are also several smaller ligaments around and within the knee joint that can be injured but less commonly so.
What causes knee ligament injury?
Ligaments are injured when a joint is moved excessively and suddenly outside of its normal range of motion. The four main ligaments named above all have different movements/forces they are designed to withstand at the knee so they all have slightly different mechanisms of injury. Knee ligament injuries are commonly sporting injuries usually due to sudden deceleration or change of direction, poor landing technique, a fall or from a direct blow to the knee. The ligaments can be either partially or completely ruptured and we grade the rupture based on this.
What are the symptoms of knee ligament injury?
This will depend on the ligament injured and severity of the injury but the following are common symptoms:
- Pain - commonly a sudden onset of pain which can cause an inability to weight bear
- Swelling – how quickly this comes on can be an indication to the structure(s) involved
- A feeling of instability/giving way of the knee
- You may feel a tear or hear a pop when the injury occurs
Diagnosis of knee ligament injury
A thorough subjective and objective assessment will be carried out by the physiotherapist to ascertain the exact cause of the symptoms. Specifics about the injury will be asked to help diagnose the injury and the objective will be tailored to the subjective findings. The objective may include assessment of your function and foot position, knee range of motion, flexibility, strength, palpation and special tests of the ligaments and other structures around the knee joint.
There are several causes of pain from injury to the knee and these causes may get missed if a thorough assessment is not carried out. Here at AMS we pride ourselves in carrying out thorough, appropriate assessments to rule out other causes of pain in this region and your therapist will carry out specific tests to differentiate where the pain is coming from.
Physiotherapy treatment for knee ligament injuries
A thorough assessment will enable your physiotherapist to formulate a specific individual tailored treatment program. This may include advice and education on RICE management, soft tissue mobilisations, ultrasound, acupuncture, joint mobilisations, flexibility and strengthening exercises, balance and proprioception re-training, taping and sports specific exercises and re-injury prevention.
When to seek help from a physiotherapist
If you have had an acute injury to your knee with sudden pain and swelling it is advisable to seek help from a physiotherapist after RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for 48 hours. If you have had a chronic injury (more than 3 weeks) and your knee does not seems to be improving and you have not yet sought any advice then it is important to do so rather than ignore your symptoms as you may have an undiagnosed complete ligament injury.