Ligaments are elastic bands of tissue that connect bones, providing stability and strength. Ligaments are typically torn through sudden twisting movements when the knee and feet don't cooperate with each other. Although pain isn't always immediate, a torn ligament can be heard via a popping sound.
The human knee contains four types of ligaments: anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, medical collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament. The cruciate ligaments, located down the center of the knee, control the forward and backward movement of the shin. The medial and lateral collateral ligaments control the stability of the inner and outer knee, respectively.
A torn anterior crucial ligament, better known as a torn ACL, is one of the most common knee injuries. Tearing the ACL has a much higher probability during quick daily movements, or sports that require a lot of quick movements, such as basketball, racquetball or football. Women also have a higher risk than men of tearing their ACL.
According to the University of Virginia Health System, a torn knee ligament may not necessarily cause pain. The person may hear a popping sound and the leg may swell up and buckle under the weight of the body. Other symptoms include stiffness, bruising and painful instability when walking due to the knee joint sliding too far out of place. Diagnosis can be determined via x-ray, MRI, CAT scan or arthroscopy.
Torn ligaments in the knee cannot heal on their own due to a lack of blood supply. Immediate relief can be provided in the form of ice packs to reduce the swelling and protective knee braces to use while exercising to reduce risk of agitation.
Long-term relief can occur through the process of strengthening the surrounding muscles. Doing so can help make up for the instability of the torn knee ligament.
In some cases, surgery is the best solution. When a ruptured ligament is treated conservatively there is no guarantee of reliable reduction and fixation of the ligamentous ends. When methods of conservative and operative treatment have been experimentally compared, it has appeared that healing is quicker and better when apposition and fixation of the ligamentous ends have been carried out operatively.
Contact a doctor immediately after injuring the knee. Ice and applied pressure can reduce immediate pain and swelling temporarily but it is important to have a doctor's diagnosis before proceeding with any physically demanding activity.