What are ligaments?

Ligaments are tough bands of muscle tissue that connect one bone to another. You will find them across joints and they help stabilize them. The knee has four major stabilizing joints-you have ligaments out on the outside which are medial and collateral and then there are two central ligaments that help prevent rotation at your anterior and posterior ligaments.

The most common injuries that we see in the knee are ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament) injuries and these are most commonly sports related. The primary causes tend to be twisting injuries - often when an athlete tries to pivot and twist quickly, stopping suddenly when running, over-extending the knee or landing on a flexed knee when jumping.(usually a non- contact injury). Then there are the contact injuries when an athlete suffers a direct blow to the knee area. Normally the injury will be immediately noticeable because of extreme pain, a significant amount of swelling and a feeling of instability like the knee is about to give out on them. These are commonly seen with gymnasts, footballers, and athletes in general.

This kind of injury can be extremely painful and debilitating but luckily there are very effective treatments out there. Which is particularly good news for sportspeople and athletes as this used to mean the end of their career when they sustained this type of injury.

Treatment for ligament injury really depends on the type of ligament that has been injured. Some ligament injuries can be treated simply with a brace then allowed time to heal whereas if the ACL ligament needs to be repaired, these ligaments can not be just sewn back together, they actually have to be rebuilt or reconstructed. In order to do that the surgeon will use a tendon that is either taken from the athlete or from a donor (a dead patient that has donated their tissue for this purpose) The new tendon is then surgically implanted into the knee and over a course of recovery time becomes a stabilized ligament.
Sometimes this kind of injury can be quite difficult to diagnose and apart from a doctors examination, the best thing is often to get an X-ray or more often these days an MRI scan. Diagnostic Healthcare Ltd MRI Scans are very commonly used for these kinds of injuries.

Recovery from ACL injury really does depend on the level of activity that the patient will be going back to, for athletes this means about 6-9 months of recovery, that’s to get back to full athletic participation. But for everyday activity its more like 3-6 month recovery time. Most MCL injuries can be treated non-operatively, typically, depending on the severity of the injury, the athlete can have the knee placed in a brace for about 3-4 weeks and as soon as the ligament is showing signs of healing then they will be able to come out of the brace and will be able to return to full athletic participation within 4-6 weeks.
The best way to avoid ligament injuries in the first place is by maintaining a good level of strength and fitness. Most of these types of injuries are caused by pivoting and twisting so this kind of sudden movement needs to be avoided whenever possible.