There are a number of structures found in the knee. The main structures include the cruciate ligaments, the collateral ligaments, the articular cartilages (the joint) and the meniscus. Knee injuries happen and very often more than one of these structures is injured. A knee injury is something that you will always want to avoid. Depending on the severity it can sideline you for several months and prevent you from resuming strenuous physical activity. Here, we will look specifically at collateral ligament injuries.
A Detailed Look at Collateral Ligaments
The collateral ligaments are both on the outside and on the inside of the knee joints. It happens that they are partially torn apart. At the same time, the knee can still be quite stable. Because the collateral ligament is made from minor ligaments that all go in different layers and directions, rather than being just a single, thin ligament. Because it is made up of all these different tissues, including the lateral collateral ligament, it is very strong and supportive.
Very often a collateral ligament injury is an injury to the medial collateral ligament, or MCL. An MCL tear comes in different grades, with each grade being a different severity of tear. A torn MCL is not completely torn until it reaches Grade III. More often, however, an MCL injury is a simple sprain or partial tear, which can be treated without too many lasting side effects.
How Do You Injure the Collateral Ligament?
There are a number of ways in which collateral ligament injuries can occur. Generally, the knee finds itself strained from the inside but this is quite rare. Usually, the injury occurs due to an outside strain. It is a common injury in people who play football and find they are kicked in the knee by an opponent. Here, the knee finds itself pressed together through the exterior force, which leads to the inside being forced apart, which is what causes the injury. It is also possible for the knee to become twisted without any pressure on the joint itself.
The damage to the collateral ligament can vary. Sometimes, there is just a single crack, but other times the interior or exterior collateral ligament is completely tore. Often, an injury comes with a whole lot of swelling on the joint itself. A collateral ligament strain is the most common and the easiest to treat.
Self-Treatment of Collateral Ligament Injuries
First aid after a collateral ligament injury should follow the RICE principle. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and these are the most important steps you should take to reduce swelling and permanent damage The knee needs to rest for 24 to 48 hours. It should be cooled with an icepack immediately, although a bag of frozen peas will do the job just as well. Do make sure you place the icepack inside some tissue, avoiding direct skin contact. The pack should be placed on the joint for 20 minutes and this can be repeated every hour. However, cooling should not happen for over three hours in total. Next, make sure you have a support bandage specifically designed for the knee. It must be very firm, but do make sure it is the right size because if it is too tight, circulation could be impaired. Lastly, the joint has to be elevated to above heart level. The best way to do this is to simply lie down and use a number of pillows to prop the leg up. This should be kept up for a few days.
Medical Treatment of Collateral Ligament Injuries
If lucky, then the only treatment that is necessary is the self-treatment. However, if the injury is more serious like in a collateral ligament tear, medical treatment needs to be sought. Very often, a patient will be prescribed a splint, which is generally worn for around six weeks. This will allow the patient to move their knee, but the braces keep the knee stable and stop it from moving sideways. It is very rare for these injuries to require surgery. This is very different from Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries, which almost always require ACL reconstruction surgery. Usually, once the immediate injury has healed somewhat, physiotherapy will be required so that the muscles can be exercises and so that a person can regain balance. The knee has to be 100% stable before any strenuous exercise is partaken in again.