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Cruciate ligament

What exactly is a cruciate ligament? The knee can be thought of as having four ligaments holding it in place, one at each side to stop the bones sliding sideways and two crossing over in the middle to stop the bones sliding forwards and backwards. It is the latter two in the middle that are called the cruciate ligaments, the posterior (meaning back) cruciate ligament and anterior cruciate ligament (meaning front). If damaged they may cause knee pain.

How is it injured?

The ligament is injured through twisting the knee or through an impact to the side of the knee - often the outside. If you have injured the joint recently and there is a lot of swelling then you should see a professional immediately and not poke it about yourself!

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain at the time of impact which dies away afterwards
  • Swelling
  • If the swelling comes on rapidly then it could be caused by bleeding within the joint
  • In the later stages when the swelling has decreased there might be instability in the joint
  • Pain when you bend the leg and have the tibia (lower leg bone) pulled forwards

What can the athlete do?

  • Apply RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Use crutches if necessary
  • See a sports injury professional immediately
What can a professional do?

Refer the athlete for surgery. This is generally recommended for an athlete. Surgery will involve reconstructing the ligament from a tendon elsewhere in the body, or simply repairing the damaged ligament.

In older, less active people surgery may not be advised.

Rehabilitation should start from the time of injury, not necessarily from the time of surgery. This will aid a faster recovery following surgery.

Old ligament injuries

An old ligament injury can often cause problems by reoccurring. After resting the injury might have settled down only for it to return when you go back to sport.

What can the athlete do?
  • Rest and hope it heals
  • See a professional for advice on rehabilitation, mobility and strengthening of the joint
What can a professional do?
  • X-ray the joint with a contrast medium to assess damage
  • Do an arthroscopy (have a look inside) to see what is really going on
  • A surgeon can also reconstruct a damaged ligament

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