knee ligament sprains

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Writing about injuries is not always easy when relying on press releases, sports stories and snippets of interviews. Sometimes, the story falls in your lap. The Steelers’ Ben Rothlisberger gets hit, hurts his knee, hobbles off the field and by morning has an MRI confirming a medial collateral ligament tear…prognosis 4-6 weeks before return to play. Sometimes, though, there needs to be detective work because the information is more opaque. The NHL is a constant frustration with their upper body/lower body injury mantra.

But it’s Lionel Messi’s knee injury that posed a challenge. His team FC Barcelona tweeted that “Messi has a tear in the internal collateral ligament of his left knee. He will be out for around 7-8 weeks.” It seems relatively transparent and open, telling the world and especially Barca fans about Messi’s injury. The only problem is that the knee doesn’t have an internal collateral ligament, so tearing it is a little problematic. The challenge then, is to sort out the real injury.

Clue one is provided by photos of the injury. As he lay on the ground, Mr. Messi reaches down and rubs the inside part of his left knee.

messi-down-injured-1443278439399

Clue two is that the recovery time is measured in weeks, not months.

Clue three is that no surgery is planned. Argentina national team doctor, Donato Villani, was quoted by the Argentine paper, Ole: “The injury was to the ligament on the inner part of the knee, a ligament that is extra-articular, that obviously suffers injury like any other ligament, but this one is outside the joint. He avoided a valgus force injury of the joint; it is not a tear that needs surgery.”

As it turns out, the knee joint has four ligaments that provide it support and stability. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments prevent the knee from sliding forward and backward, while the medial and collateral ligaments prevent side to side motion. This allows the knee to do what it’s supposed to do, flex and extend, like a hinge. Each ligament has the potential to be torn and the treatment approach is different for each.

It’s important to remember that a torn ligament is called a sprain. Grade 1 sprains describe a ligament whose fibers have been stretch and a grade 2 sprain happens when the fibers are partially torn. A grade 3 sprain occurs when the ligament has been completely torn.

In athletes, each knee ligament has its own treatment, healing and return to play time frame.

  • Anterior cruciate ligament tears almost always need surgery and recovery time is measured in many months.
  • Posterior cruciate ligaments may not need surgery but rehabilitation may take 3 months or more to return range of motion, stability and strength. For those with a PCL tear who undergo surgery, the rehab time may stretch to 9-12 months.
  • Medial collateral ligament tears used to be treated with surgery but non operative treatment is found to be more successful. Grade 1 and 2 sprains often heal well enough in 1-2 weeks to allow return to play while a grade 3 sprain may need 6 weeks or longer. While early return to play is allowed, the MCL continued to heal for many more months. Surgery may be required if there is recurrent injury or chronic instability.
  • Lateral collateral ligaments tend to heal less well than the MCL and it completely torn, the LCL injury may also involve damage to the posterolateral corner of the knee. This is a group of structures that provide knee stability (and include the fibular collateral ligament, the popliteofibular ligament, the mid-third lateral capsular ligament, the biceps femoris head and the lateral gastrocnemius tendon and the IT band). A grade 3 tears often needs surgery and rehab time that can last a year.

Mr. Messi had an “internal” ligament injury that does not need surgery and will heal in 7-8 weeks. The medial collateral ligament fits that description but the clincher is that the medical collateral ligament has fibers that are both external (outside of) and internal to the joint. While it is a thick band of tissue that covers the whole of the m3edial or inner side of the knee, there are many layers that are outside of the knee joint and others that are internal to the joint. That division is based upon the capsule that is the boundary of the joint itself.

Medical commentary by proxy can be harrowing but sometimes, understanding anatomy, injury patterns and treatment options can uncover the mysteries that are contained in press releases and twitter feeds. And at the end of the day Ben Roethlisberger and Lionel Messi are related by MCL sprain.

 

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