The most common sports injury experienced by athletes occurs in the knee, and the injury may range from relatively minor to very serious. The knee joint probably takes more stress than any other large joint in the body, and any one of its structures can be injured while participating in active sports. The most common knee injury experienced is to the (ACL), or anterior cruciate ligament. A sudden twisting motion can easily result in stretching or tearing of the ligament and it has a serious impact on anyone who experiences it. An injury to the cruciate ligament is not always painful at first, but the injured athlete may have difficulty when trying to stand on it. Anyone suffering this type of injury will begin to experience pain and swelling, but the specific symptoms will vary from one person to the next.
The ACL that is only torn or stretched will eventually heal with physical therapy focused on sports injuries, but arthroscopic reconstruction is usually recommended to completely restore their athletic ability. This is unlike an injury to the MCL ligament which connects the femur to the tibia, and an injury to the MCL can usually be treated with only physical therapy and bracing.
The articular cartilage covers the bones inside the knee joint, and allows the ends of the bones to move against each other without friction. A traumatic injury caused by a fall on the knee can damage this cartilage, and it can progress to arthritis if the torn cartilage is not treated. Amazing advances in orthopedic medicine now make it possible to transplant or re-grow the damaged cartilage in order to delay or completely prevent the development of arthritis.
A sports related knee injury in children is not as serious as it would be for an adult, but any injury to a young athlete should not be ignored. The most common injury young people experience is a sprain of the MCL, and it is typically treated without surgery. If an injury to the knee prevents the youth from putting weight on their leg or causes a visible deformity, they should be seen by a medical professional. In other cases, icing and rest for 2 or 3 days is the recommended treatment.
Although sports medicine aimed at treating sports related injuries has made considerable advances within recent years, there are some knee joint injuries that will likely occur repeatedly with continued sports activity. Even when a ligament or tendon has been surgically repaired, re-injury is always a danger.
People who live a very active lifestyle will eventually suffer some sort of knee injury during their first 50 years, and even if the injury is surgically repaired, arthritis will eventually affect the joint. While NSAID therapy, bracing and surgery can keep them reasonably comfortable and active for many years, it is likely they will eventually require knee joint replacement. This surgery should be delayed as long as possible since the life expectancy of replacement joints is limited to about 25 years or less.