What are the Different Types of Knee Ligament Injury?

Shelby Miller

A knee ligament injury includes any damage sustained, whether acutely or through repetitive use, to the intracapsular or extracapsular ligaments of the knee joint. Ligaments are bands of fibrous connective tissue that at the knee connect the bone of the upper leg, the femur, to the bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula. They also are vital to the stabilization of the knee joint and to the transfer of forces from the muscles of the hip and thigh across the knee, resulting in movement of the lower leg. Because they are less flexible than muscle tissue and situated at such a vulnerable location, however, the knee ligaments are rather susceptible to injury.

A physiotherapist can help athletes prevent certain sports-related inuries.
A physiotherapist can help athletes prevent certain sports-related inuries.

Those structures that commonly sustain knee ligament injury include both the intracapsular ligaments, those found within the knee joint capsule, and the extracapsular ligaments, those that lie outside of the joint capsule. The main intracapsular knee ligaments include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the transverse ligament. Perhaps the best known and most commonly injured, the ACL runs diagonally across the front of the knee joint beneath the patella. The PCL crosses behind the ACL in the opposite direction so that the two form an X, and it is less commonly injured. Rarely injured is the transverse ligament, which runs horizontally across the front of the medial and lateral menisci.

An injured knee should be rested and iced for several days.
An injured knee should be rested and iced for several days.

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The main extracapsular ligaments include the collateral ligaments, which run vertically between the leg bones to either side of the knee joint, and the patellar ligament. Collateral ligaments, which are relaxed when the knee is bent and taut when the leg is straight, include the medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the inside of the knee, and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) on the outside of the knee. An oft-injured knee ligament, the patellar ligament runs vertically from the kneecap to the tibia bone in the lower leg and helps transfer forces from the knee extensor muscles in the thigh across the joint.

A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament.
A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament.

A knee ligament injury can either be sustained by a sudden trauma to the joint, often from playing sports, or by a gradual wearing down of the tissue from overuse, such as in frequent squatting. These injuries typically present as strains, in which the ligament is stretched beyond its normal limits, as partial tears, or as complete tears, also known as ruptures. Symptoms of all of these injuries will include pain and swelling, and immediate medical attention is required in addition to application of the RICE formula: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Knee ligament injuries occur either to the intracapsular or extracapsular ligaments of the knee joint.
Knee ligament injuries occur either to the intracapsular or extracapsular ligaments of the knee joint.

Among those who play sports, the ligaments most commonly injured are the ACL, MCL, and PCL, often due to contact injuries. The ACL links the femur to the tibia and is an important stabilizer of the knee, and it is often the first to suffer a tear, either from direct force applied to the knee, or from a non-contact force — a sudden twisting or explosive movement. Of the collateral ligaments, the MCL is located along the inside of the knee, and as such is easily ruptured from lateral contact forces — those applied to the outside of the knee. Lastly, the PCL, which stabilizes the knee joint from behind, can be injured by any blow or explosive movement that results in knee hyperextension, as the back of the knee would be overstretched.

A man wearing a brace for knee hyperextension.
A man wearing a brace for knee hyperextension.

Overuse of the knee joint most typically causes damage to the patellar ligament, which is so heavily involved in extending the knee. Every time the knee extends from a flexed or bent position, the patellar ligament, alternately known as the patellar tendon, absorbs a great deal of force. Injuries to the patellar ligament include strains and, very commonly, tendinitis, which can only be treated by avoiding the repetitive knee-bending movements, as in cycling, running, or squatting, that led to the injury in the first place. As with any knee ligament injury, this damage can take weeks or even months to fully heal and requires medical attention.

Knee injuries are common in sports.
Knee injuries are common in sports.

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Discussion Comments


I am an 11 year old girl. I injured my knee during a tennis tournament. After the MRI and x-ray the orthopedist told me that I had a dislocated knee and a torn ligament. The doctor recommended me for an operation when I am 15 years old, but told me I can't play tennis anymore until the operation is over. I love tennis. Please advise any other method to help me overcome my problem.


@GirraffeEars- I have had knee pain and ligament injury so I can give you a few tips about how to protect joints. My doctor has given me dietary advice about foods that help promote healthy joints. Many of the supplements that GenevaMech listed are actually contained in every day foods we eat, so if you watch your diet you can have healthy joints without paying the high prices for supplements. Besides, nutrients from foods are better absorbed and more easily assimilated than supplements.

Shellfish like shrimp, crab, and lobster contain large amounts of glucosamine, especially if cooked in their shells. Salmon, Mackerel, and other fatty fish are loaded with fatty acids like Omega-3, as are almonds and other nuts. Pineapples, bell peppers, bananas, and oranges are loaded with vitamin c, Bromelain, and other vitamins and minerals that are great anti-inflammatories.

Finally, avocados, olives, and extra virgin olive oil are full of antioxidants and work to lubricate joints. Most of these items are found in a Mediterranean style diet, which you might consider as a good diet for joint health.


@GirraffeEars- There are a number of supplements that can be helpful at preventing and repairing joint damage. Some of the most important are glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, vitamin-c, and Omega fatty acids. Glucosamine is a precursor amino acid for an important molecule used in building cartilage. MSM and Chondroitin are said to be important in improving resiliency of cartilage and ligaments. I have used all three supplements and I have been able to see noticeable results from all of them, especially the Glucosamine.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is beneficial for joint health. Studies have also suggested that it can prevent osteoarthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy joints and act as an anti-inflammatory. Fatty acids help to reduce joint swelling, essentially lubricating the ligaments and cartilage. You could supplement with all of these to promote healing and help protect sensitive joints.


Are there any supplements or dietary changes I can make to minimize the risks of a ligament injury? I am always spraining an ankle, injuring an elbow, or having pain in my knee. I would like my joints to be healthier and stronger so that I do not experience a major ligament injury.

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