Cruciate ligament tear

A cruciate ligament tear is one of the most common and most serious knee injuries. It is usually caused by a combination of twisting and bending the knee with extreme force. The anterior cruciate ligament tears about ten times more often than the posterior cruciate ligament. Cruciate ligament injuries typically occur during sporting activities like skiing and football.

The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments cross over in the centre of the knee joint. They both play an important role in the complex functioning of the knee joint. The anterior cruciate ligament is particularly responsible for stabilising the knee during strenuous activities.

High loads on the knees combined with a twisting, bending or extending motion can cause the cruciate ligaments to tear. The anterior cruciate ligament at the front of the knee tears much more frequently than the rear ligament. It is uncommon for both cruciate ligaments to tear at the same time – such injuries only occur in cases of extreme trauma.

A torn cruciate ligament is painful.  The knee swells up rapidly and there is often bruising. Sometimes it is possible to feel – and even hear – the ligament tearing as the injury occurs. The pain often subsides after the injury has taken place, but the knee remains unstable and the knee’s mobility is significantly limited.

Cruciate ligament tears are diagnosed on the basis of the type of accident, the distinctive symptoms and a thorough examination of the knee joint. X-ray imaging and/or an MRI examination provide information about the extent of the tear and are also used to identify any additional injuries.

There are many different factors used to determine whether or not a cruciate ligament tear requires surgery. Athletes who constantly subject their knees to extreme force and need to recover quickly usually opt for an operation. Surgery is generally also recommended if other parts of the knee have been damaged as well, such as the lateral ligaments or the meniscus. The surgery is typically performed arthroscopically. Find out more about this in the knee joint imaging section.

A torn cruciate ligament can be conservatively treated if the person does not subject their knees to high-intensity sports or work-related strain. Important aspects of conservative treatment include targeted physiotherapy exercises and the strengthening of the thigh muscles.