What are the ligaments of the knee?
The knee joint has 4 main ligaments. They are rope like structures, made out of a protein called collagen. Their function is to stabilize the joint against excessive movements in one particular direction.
The ligaments take 3 months to heal to the bone & 6 months to consolidate fully. Athletes must be prepared to miss their season. Healing is delayed in smokers.
A brace must be used throughout the healing phase & intensive physiotherapy is required to get back to sport.
What happens if the injury is untreated?
The knee may be too unstable to walk without a brace or other kind of support. Ligament injuries alter the loading pattern of the knee & unless corrected, lead to development of knee arthritis. Multiple ligament injuries can be career threatening for professional athletes.
What are the symptoms of ligament injury?
Apart from causing a lot of knee pain, an acute injury is always accompanied by a joint hematoma (swelling due to blood accumulation). It is not possible to fully straighten the knee due to this & the patient keeps the knee bent 5-10 degrees. Walking is very difficult & painful. In a chronic ligament injury, the patient feels that the knee is unstable, both during straight-line walking & particularly on changing direction, descending stairs & walking on uneven surfaces. The knee may also swell up, off & on. The direction of instability depends on which ligament/ set of ligaments is torn.
ACUTE INJURIES Fresh ligament injuries need to be rested in a plaster or a brace with ice applied. Crutches are used for walking & anti-inflammatory medicines are given
CHRONIC INJURIES Old injuries require some form of ligament reconstruction surgery if the knee is unstable. These are usually done as a day care procedure.