– Gramos Pallaska, PT, DPT, FAFS, CEAS
Every year, an estimated 2.5 million adolescents seek emergency care for sports-related knee injuries. Understanding the most common types of knee injury, including symptoms to watch for and treatment options, can help athletes of all ages protect their knees — on and off the field.
Why is the Knee Prone to Sports Injury?
What makes athletes’ knees so vulnerable to injury? The knee is the largest and one of the strongest joints in the body, making it very complex. The major components of the knee include the meniscus, a C-shaped fibrous cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between the tibia (shinbone) and the femur (thighbone), ligaments that provide multidirectional stability, patella (kneecap) and significant musculature to optimize function.
With such a complex joint, there are a lot of things that can go wrong — especially for athletes. When you introduce high levels of stress to the lower extremities and the knee, surround joints and/or musculature are not conditioned to that level of stress, injury can easily occur.
What are the Three Most Common Types of Knee Injury for Athletes?
Certain types of knee injury are more common than others among athletes. The type that occurs most often are injuries to the four major ligaments in the knee: the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The ACL, which connects your tibia and shinbone and prevents your shinbone from sliding too far forward, is particularly susceptible to sports injuries. Rough landings, a sudden change in direction, cutting and pivoting can all damage the ACL, causing tears ranging from partial to complete.
Symptoms of knee ligament injuries include pain, swelling, instability and discoloration. Some athletes report feeling a pop or snap at the moment of injury.
Another common knee injury affects the meniscus, the knee’s shock absorber. Athletes whose sports involve hard landings or lots of cutting movements may be particularly prone to meniscus injuries.
Symptoms of meniscus damage include pain, swelling, clicking sensations and, in more serious cases, locking of the knee joint.
The third type of knee injury that commonly occurs among athletes is tendinopathy, a broad term used to describe painful conditions occurring in and around tendons in response to overuse. Tendinopathy often affects athletes who return to their sport after a break without properly conditioning their bodies; the stress and strain of physical activity can cause pain and inflammation of tendons around the knee.
Patellar tendinopathy is one of the most common when it comes to the knee joint, with symptoms including tenderness and pain just underneath the kneecap that’s made worse by running, harder landings, ascending/descending stairs and in some cases initiating walking following prolonged sitting.
Treating Knee Injuries
If you are experiencing symptoms like knee pain or swelling, it’s important to have your knee looked at as soon as possible — whether on the sidelines right after an injury occurs or at a healthcare provider’s office.
Once the type and severity of your injury has been determined, you and your healthcare specialist can decide on a treatment plan that will allow you to return safely to your sport. This may be as simple as icing the injury to bring down swelling and resting. Physical therapy is also a crucial component for improving mobility, strength, multidirectional stability and reconditioning your body. In cases of severe injury, surgery may be recommended.
No matter what type of knee injury you have, quickly having the knee assessed by a healthcare professional, giving your body time to heal, rebuilding strength and increasing mobility is crucial to ensuring a safe return to your sport. With the guidance of a joint expert, you’ll be back on the field in no time.
If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a knee injury, or to schedule an appointment with any of our Pure Healthy Back experts, visit our appointment requests page, or call 888-396-2642.