Knee Trauma

The knee is a complex joint made up of several parts including bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that all work as one. It is the largest joint in the body, and one of the most easily injured. Sports-related knee injuries fall into two categories: acute injuries, which occur suddenly, or overuse injuries, which occur over a period of time.

Common Acute and Overuse Injuries

By Laura Childers

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries may be caused by a direct blow to the knee, or from abnormal twisting, bending the knee, or falling on the knee. Common acute injuries include sprains and strains of ligaments or tendons, ligament tears and a tear to the meniscus, a rubbery cushion in the knee joint.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, of the four major ligaments found in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are most commonly injured in sports.

The ACL, which runs from the front of the tibia bone (shin) to the back of the femur bone (thigh), can rip when an athlete changes directions quickly, lands a jump, or slows down from running. The MCL, which connects your femur to the tibia along the inside of your knee , is usually injured by a direct blow to the outside of the knee. ACL and MCL injuries are often seen in skiing as well as basketball, soccer, lacrosse and football. A tear usually involves a loud pop or snap coming from the knee, followed by swelling, joint looseness and pain.

Overuse Injuries

Regular participation in activities such as bicycle riding and jogging can lead to irritation and inflammation of knee tissue and potentially, an overuse knee injury. Two common sports-related knee injuries caused by overuse are “runner’s knee” and “jumper’s knee.”

“Runner’s knee” refers to a number of medical conditions that cause pain around the front of the knee, including irritation of the iliotibial band, which runs down the outside of the thigh. “Jumper’s knee” refers to inflammation of the patellar tendon which connects the kneecap (patellar) to the shin bone (tibia).


Depending on the location, type, and severity of the knee injury, treatment may range from the P.R.I.C.E method (see “Top Sports Injuries”) to a knee immobilizer or brace to physical therapy, medicine, and in some cases, surgery. For more serious knee injuries, your doctor will recommend you see an orthopaedic surgeon.