Get the facts on common threats to these important joints.
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Ligament Tears The most common acute knee injuries involve the ligaments – those rope-like cords of tissue that bind bones to bones or bones to cartilage.
- ACL injury – Sudden twisting, a hit from the side, or landing with the leg straight can tear the ACL, which connects the femur to the tibia, preventing the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur and providing rotational stability. If the tear is complete, you may hear a “pop” sound. An ACL tear is among the most severe of common sports injuries, and it usually requires surgery.
- MCL and LCL injuries – A sudden force from the side when the foot is planted can stretch or tear the MCL or LCL, two ligaments located on either side of the knee that control the sideways motion of the joint. While these injuries usually do not require surgery, surgery may be necessary if the ligament is torn in a way that prevents healing.
Overuse Injuries Overuse injuries, characterized by pain around the front or sides of the knee joint, develop slowly over time in response to continued stress. A repeated action may lead to inflammation of the fluid-filled sacks in the knee (bursitis), inflammation of one or more tendons (such as jumper’s knee), and muscle weakness or minor softening of the cartilage under the kneecap (runner’s knee).
Protecting Your Knees
- Check your shoes. Make sure they fit your feet correctly and offer good support. If necessary, invest in an insert.
- Cross-train. If you’ve been focusing on only one type of exercise (such as running), start mixing it up. For example, instead of hitting the pavement every day, train on an elliptical or a stationary bike.
- Consider a training program. Many programs have been developed to help athletes (women, in particular) strengthen the hips and thighs and stabilize the abdomen – all of which can help prevent knee injuries like an ACL tear.