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What Causes Knee Ligament Injuries? (With Solutions)

Some of the most frustrating injuries in the world are those that affect our legs, as they inhibit our ability to move. Unfortunately, these types of injuries are quite common, with an almost endless list of causes for knee pain. One of the most painful variants of these injuries is those afflicted upon our ligaments, which is a very sensitive part of our anatomy. 

However, figuring out what kinds of injuries directly affect our ligaments and what might have caused those injuries is challenging. Hopefully, this article will help you understand why these injuries occur and how you can mitigate the pain they cause.

The Ligaments

The anatomy of the knee is more complex than many people give it credit. What you might not know is that the knee is home to four crucial ligaments needed for our legs to function correctly. These ligaments are as follows:

  • The Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): The ACL is the ligament found in the center of the knee and is responsible for the rotation and forward motion of the tibia.
  • The Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): The PCL is found in the back of the knee and regulates the backward movement of the tibia.
  • The Medial collateral ligament (MCL): The MCL is found in the inner knee and is responsible for stabilization.
  • The Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The LCL is found in the outer knee and, like the MCL to the inner knee, handles stabilization.

These ligaments, while important to our physiology, are susceptible to injury. When they are injured, it becomes difficult to function as the pain prevents us from moving properly. Several conditions revolve around these injuries that are related to specific parts of the body.

Runner’s Knee

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, colloquially known as “runner’s knee,” is a common knee injury among many athletes. In fact, runner’s knee affects over 20% of young adults with a higher frequency in women than in men. This condition’s frequency, combined with the symptoms, makes it a rather debilitating issue for those who suffer from it. The exact cause of runner’s knee is fairly obvious but involves a lot more detail than you might expect.

The most common cause of runner’s knee, as you might have guessed, is simple overuse. The continual action of bending one’s knee or undergoing high-intensity exercises can irritate the patella (kneecap). This irritation is responsible for the majority of the symptoms that runner’s knee is known for. The same issue can be induced by direct damage to the knee caused by a fall or direct blow.

Another lesser-known cause of runner’s knee is a matter of misaligned bones. The bones connected to the hips and ankles can fall out of position. If they do, the strain puts excessive pressure on the patella that prevents it from moving correctly in its groove.

The symptoms of runner’s knee are reasonably simple, revolving around lingering pain from the inflammation induced by the condition. The pain tends to center on the kneecap but can also manifest in the surrounding areas of the leg. This pain is further exacerbated by everyday motions such as bending your knee, running, squatting, or getting into or out of a chair. 

While both common and painful, runner’s knee is not the most severe injury affecting our ligaments. Instead, it is a common nuisance that can be tended to simply if appropriately rested. Runner’s knee is among the least serious knee injuries. Other, more painful, and severe injuries can also occur. Runner’s knee is merely the most common, mild injury you might experience.

Torn Meniscus

Like runner’s knee, a torn meniscus is an extremely common condition that can plague virtually anyone. The condition itself is associated with the “unhappy triad,” which involves tears to the ACL and MCL as well, making it one of the most painful conditions that afflict the human knee. 

The cause of a torn meniscus is, like runner’s knee, a matter of how overworked it is. Specifically, a torn meniscus occurs when activities in which the knee is forced to twist or rotate in ways that might not occur in everyday exercise. Even exercises such as squatting or lifting might cause a tear due to the strain. Additionally, our ligaments become even less resilient as we age, and tears can occur with even minimal strain.

The symptoms of a torn meniscus are a little more extensive than in runner’s knee, with the severity that comes along with them. While a torn meniscus also results in pain like with runner’s knee, one of the other initial symptoms you might experience is a popping sensation in the knee which can cause a degree of discomfort. 

Another symptom of a torn meniscus is swelling around the knee, leading to stiffness that makes it more difficult to maneuver the afflicted limb, including the inability to straighten your knee fully. You might even feel as though your knee is locked in place or that it is giving way.

A torn meniscus is even more painful than runner’s knee, with a more extensive array of adverse effects that can be difficult to cope with. However, even with all the adverse effects of a torn meniscus, it is still not the most devastating or detrimental injury that our knees can sustain.

Osteoarthritis

Perhaps one of the most debilitating conditions that can affect our knees and the associated ligaments, osteoarthritis is a condition that can unexpectedly afflict virtually anyone. A variant of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is considered the “wear and tear” arthritis that can wear away at the knee and joints. “Osteo-” means bones, “arthr-” means joints, and “-itis” means inflammation; thus, inflammation of the bones and joints.

Osteoarthritis is commonly and erroneously associated with age. While age is a factor, as our cartilage becomes less likely to recover from strain and damage as we age, it is not the only cause of osteoarthritis. Risk factors include:

  • Age, due to the gradual deterioration of different parts of the body over time and your reduced ability to heal from damage.
  • Genetic factors, which can be inherited from parents and make you more susceptible to arthritic conditions.
  • Obesity, which causes excessive strain on the joints, increasing wear and tear while degrading cartilage.

However, while a few of these factors are outside of our control, osteoarthritis can also be induced by fully controllable factors such as athletic habits and stress injuries. For example, those who engage in strenuous actions that might place undue pressure on your knees can trigger the onset of osteoarthritis.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis are among the worst you can experience in your knees. One of the main symptoms brought on by osteoarthritis is chronic pain that is exacerbated while moving and is slightly alleviated while resting. You might also experience a warm sensation in your joints while also suffering from stiffness and decreased mobility in the knees that can inhibit your everyday life.

Osteoarthritis is a highly debilitating condition that has become more prevalent in recent years, especially given the rate of obesity in the United States of America. This pain can be insufferable and makes finding ways to manage the pain an absolute necessity. This begs the question of how one can begin to cope with knee and ligament pain.

Knee Replacement Surgery

A more niche condition, the replacement of one’s patella, is an operation that has been used to overcome osteoarthritis and other damaging conditions that render one’s knee useless. However, while serving as a potential solution, the operation itself comes with a host of side effects that further compound the problem it was used to solve.

While estimated that 82% of replacements will last 25 years, the surgery comes with a host of risks that might make the procedure more of a detriment than a boon. Among them is the potential for deep vein thrombosis, which is the formation of a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs. While medication is used to minimize the risk of such symptoms developing, the surgery might cause the condition.

In addition, the surgery might cause fractures to the bone, especially in elderly patients, as well as a loss of motion in the leg. In rare cases, the replacement may even come loose, necessitating a secondary surgery to realign the replacement with the rest of the leg.

Though risky, knee replacement surgery may be necessary in the event of catastrophic knee damage or advanced arthritis. When the alternative is chronic pain and a non-functional knee, surgery is the best option. However, even successful knee replacement surgery will require treatment of its own so that the patient can fully recover from the pain and loss of functionality they experience.

Fortunately, the treatments used in mitigating the naturally induced conditions we have already discussed can even be applied to the rehabilitation of a post-surgical recovery effort. The only remaining question is what these treatment options might be to ensure the knee, artificial or otherwise, remains useable.

Treatment

The ligaments in the knee are highly sensitive to injury and can be subject to some of the most devastating joint conditions in the world. To combat this, treatment measures must be taken to overcome the lingering pain or other effects to continue living everyday life. There are numerous treatment options available for such conditions, though some are more effective than others.

One of the most commonly employed treatment methods used when conditions strain one’s ligaments is simple rest. By resting the afflicted leg, you avoid placing excess weight on the weakened knee and giving it time to heal from the strain and potentially alleviate the pain. In extreme cases, walking should be assisted with crutches to help reduce the pressure on the afflicted ligaments.

Another from-home treatment option is applying ice to the knee to reduce the swelling and, by extension, the pain. The icing process should last 20 to 30 minutes and be repeated every 3 to 4 hours for the best effects. The length of time to do this might vary depending on the condition you have. You can also use anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce swelling and pain.

However, the best thing to do when suffering from these conditions is to pursue a more intense and effective treatment. The first thing to consider is physical therapy. Physical therapy is a time-tested tool for alleviating pain, even from ligament injuries. The process of physical therapy involves an exercise regimen that is used to strengthen tendons and promote regeneration to minimize long-term pain.

Countless clinics and firms offer physical therapy regimens across the country, with specialized programs being offered with notable success rates to help with some of the most common and devastating ligament injuries. One such program was tailored by Dr. Emmett Blahnik, focusing on conditions such as ligament tears, osteoarthritis, and even knee replacement rehabilitation.

The treatment of ligament and knee injuries is far from a complete science and may not result in permanent relief. Still, consistent treatment can help maintain the progress achieved by your treatment option of choice. As always, however, we implore you to consult with your primary care physician to ensure that you are pursuing the best course of action for your recovery from your particular ailment.

Wrapping Up

Knee and ligament injuries are not easy conditions to treat and can be caused by everyday activity, making them one of the most common ailments on the planet. 

Exercise, physical trauma, and even poor weight can result in the manifestation of knee and ligament ailments capable of rendering one unable to perform everyday activities. Fortunately, we do have techniques that can be used to mitigate some of the more severe symptoms of the conditions and bring back the sense of normalcy and control we need to function.

As always, we hope you all stay healthy and happy. However, if you have persistent knee pain, we recommend consulting a doctor to check for deeper injuries to bones or another advanced injury. If the cause of your knee pain turns out to be ligament damage, treatment is available.

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