In this week's Football 101 course, we'll take a break from football formations and terms, and learn about a common issue in professional sports - the knee injury. Today's NFL sees knee injuries occur on a weekly basis, often forcing marquee players to the injured reserve list. Although this has nothing to do with football, it's a typical thing to hear about during the season. If you're not familiar with medical terminology, then you probably shrug off certain injuries and accept that your team's player will miss a significant amount of time. My goal today is to educate everyone on the most common knee injuries in the NFL.
First let's get a little history on how the whole knee joint operates. The knee is created by three bones conjoining with each other - the femur(top), tibia(bottom), and patella(kneecap). There are a mix of knee ligaments connecting all of the bones, which allow you to rest most of your weight on top of the tibia, while also pulling and extending the lower portion of your leg. The ligaments in the knee are the ACL, MCL, PCL, LCL, the medial meniscus, and the lateral meniscus. Ligaments are very strong elastic bands of tissue that stabilize the knee joint. When one of these ligaments tear, the knee cannot function properly, and healing and/or surgery is required.
The infamous ACL
Meaning: Anterior Cruciate Ligament
Location: Deep inside the knee joint
About: The ACL is primarily responsible for stabilizing the knee joint. The ACL keeps the tibia from over extending in relation to the femur. This is the most common knee injury in sports and usually requires the longest rehabilitation as it and the PCL are the most important ligaments. A "pop" will occur when the ACL tears and the knee will immediately swell. If the ACL tears, it cannot heal on it's own if the athlete wishes to return to old form. A complete reconstruction must be done in which ligaments from other parts of your body are used to reconstruct the damaged ACL. A partial tear can be fixed. Injuries often occur when athletes abruptly stop and turn. In football, players that plant their foot and adjust all of their weight can suffer the injury. The Patriots' Wes Welker suffered this injury last season and missed the playoffs as a result.
Recovery time: 3-6 months
Meaning: Medial Collateral Ligament
Location: Outside of joint, inside leg
About: The MCL connects the shin bone, or tibia, to the thighbone, or femur. The MCL is the biggest ligament in the knee joint, and is also a very common injury to suffer. The MCL's primary job is to prevent the knee from opening up on the inside. In football, this often occurs when the outside of the knee is forced to the inside, causing the ligament to stretch and tear - which is why clipping is illegal. If the MCL is torn partially torn from the bone, it can be repaired.
Recovery time: 1-2 Weeks to 2-4 months depending on tear.
Meaning: Posterior cruciate ligament
Location: Slighty behind the ACL
About:Totalling 20% of knee injuries, the PCL could be the most important ligament of the four. However, it's the least talked about since PCL injuries commonly go undiagnosed. The PCL keeps the knee joint stable, and also prevents the tibia from bending too far backwards, opposite of the ACL that prevents the tibia from bending too far forward. Surgery for a torn PCL is generally not performed due to the awkward location of the ligament.
Recovery time: Can range from weeks to months depending on seriousness.
Meaning: Lateral Collateral Ligament
Location: Outside of leg, outside of knee joint
About: The LCL is the opposite of the MCL and prevents the knee from opening up outwards. The LCL isn't as common in the NFL considering the legs of most players don't usually bend in that direction. LCL tears can be repaired with little recovery time.
Recovery time: 2 weeks - 3 months depending on the tear.
Location: Between the femur and tibia
About:The meniscus serves as the shock absorber in the knee. It prevents the two bones from contacting each other and causing damage. The meniscus is a very tough material that only weakens with age. For it to tear on a football player, it would have to be caused by a very powerful force. If you remember, Anquan Boldin suffered a partially torn meniscus in 2004 and missed half of the season recovering. Meniscus tears take time to heal, but are generally easier to repair and won't be more susceptible to injury in the future.
Recovery time: 3-4 months
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