For pro athletes, casual fitness fans and weekend warriors alike, nobody wants a torn knee ligament.
Compared with muscular aches and sprains, severe ligament tears are rare – but they can happen to anyone, especially during activities that may involve a lot of strain and quick movement or twisting through the knees, such as football, trail racing and snow-sports.
If you’ve heard horror stories about knee injuries scuppering training plans for a whole season, or coming back to haunt somebody time and time again, it’s understandable that a ligament injury can bring on some major dread. But as with all sports injuries, the correct diagnosis, management advice, treatment and rehabilitation can make a world of difference.
What are the symptoms of a torn knee ligament?
First and foremost, torn knee ligaments can vary significantly in severity. In fact, some people may not realise they have a ligament tear. More serious tears though usually cause acute and sometimes severe pain. You may also hear a ‘pop’ when the tear happens – and then suddenly become aware that you can no longer move the joint or put weight on it. It will likely swell up quickly too.
What should you do if you think you’ve torn a knee ligament?
If any joint becomes painful and swollen following a twist, fall or sprain of any kind, the initial advice is usually the same – following the RICE rule: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
If you heard a ‘pop’ and are already quite knowledgeable about injuries, you might be thinking, ‘This is a torn ligament.’ But the only way to accurately diagnose any injury is through a specialist assessment, often involving scans too. A severe sudden injury which is very painful and/or means you’re not able to walk, should always be promptly assessed – an X-ray might be required to rule out the possibility of a broken bone, for instance.
Beyond this, a specialist will be able to assess exactly what’s going on. If you have torn a ligament, it’ll be important to identify which one it is, and how severe the tear is. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears tend to be most common, although knee ligament tears can also affect the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Can torn knee ligaments heal without surgery?
Yes they can – but it entirely depends on the severity of the injury. It may be possible to manage a very mild tear by simply following the RICE rule and resting it for a short period, before gradually returning to your full activity levels. Even with mild injuries though, it’s best to seek some expert guidance, to avoid any further damage down the line.
However, complete tears, or severe tears that care causing significant or ongoing symptoms, often will need surgery. Thankfully, modern ‘keyhole’ techniques are minimally-invasive with relatively speedy recovery times. It’s important to do your research and opt for a specialist surgeon with in-depth knowledge of knee injuries.
Recovery and rehab – the next steps
Whether or not your knee ligament tear requires surgery, remember – this is just part of the picture. For the best long-term outcomes, it’s a good idea to consider whether any underlying weaknesses contributed to the injury. Also, when a joint is out of action for a length of time, muscles can quickly weaken and imbalances can occur if other muscles and joints are having to work harder to compensate for the injury.
People who engage with physiotherapy and sports rehab tend to see far better results, both in terms of recovering faster and preventing relapses or other injuries further down the line. Our multi-disciplinary team works together to create bespoke treatment plans tailored specifically to your needs and goals.
If you’d like more information about knee injury assessment and treatment available at Wimbledon Clinic or to book a consultation, get in touch here. Our specialist team is happy to help.