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A Guide to Common Knee Injuries

The knee problems that threaten to derail your fitness, and how to prevent them.

Soccer

ACL/MCL Tears

Symptoms: Knee ligament tears are probably the most pronounced injuries on this list—while others are often conditions that develop over time, or unnoticeably over the course of a workout, tears are generally sudden and can be severe in terms of pain and damage. Getting such a tear usually involves a loud pop or snap coming from the knee, followed by swelling, joint looseness and pain when putting weight on the injured leg.

Common Causes: Often caused from participating in quick cutting sports such as soccer, basketball and lacrosse. The constant shifting of direction and weight from one knee to the other at varying angles for athletes in these sports is bound to lead to a misstep at some point, and a ligament tear, most commonly the MCL and ACL (medial collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligament), can be the unlucky result for an athlete who twists his leg too violently while pivoting or turning his body too fast.

Rehab/Prevention Tips: Watts says that, unfortunately, putting braces on knees that have never had ligament damage before has not proven to be effective, although it has and is often done for football linemen due to the huge amounts of hard contact they face every play. Braces can help people who have already had MCL or ACL tears since they’re usually more susceptible to getting the injury again. An MCL tear usually takes six weeks to heal, although it depends on the extent of the tear.

Recovery exercises are best done in a sort of physical therapy setting since it’s especially unwise to do too much too soon given the situation. Still, Watts reports starting recovering athletes with light “straight-ahead” exercises that won’t twist the knee and strain the torn ligament. Four to five weeks after that, if they’re pain-free, Watts lets them move on to lateral movement, increasing intensity progressively until they’re back to full strength.

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