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What are the Different Knee Ligaments?

Knee ligaments are vital bands of tissue connecting bones and stabilizing the joint. The four main ligaments are the ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL, each with a unique role in knee movement and integrity. Understanding their functions can help prevent injuries. Wondering how these ligaments interact within the complex structure of the knee? Let's explore their intricate dance of support and flexibility.
C. K. Lanz
C. K. Lanz

There is a series of different knee ligaments that surround the knee joint. The anterior and posterior cruciate and the transverse ligaments are intracapsular. The extracapsular ligaments include the patellar, medial collateral, and oblique and arcuate popliteal. These knee ligaments help stabilize and strengthen the largest joint in the body by limiting its range of motion.

The medial and lateral collateral are the two major extracapsular knee ligaments. The medial collateral is on the inner side of the knee, and the lateral collateral is on the joint’s outer side. These collateral ligaments provide sideways stability to the knee 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.

Two knee ligaments cross in the center of the joint. These are the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments. The anterior crosses in front of the posterior cruciate to form an x shape in the center of the knee. Together these two intracapsular ligaments prevent the tibia from moving too far forward or backward.

A tear or injury to the anterior cruciate ligament can result in joint instability. Without a strong anterior cruciate ligament, the tibia will move too far forward. A knee with a torn anterior cruciate may give out when changing direction quickly or pivoting. An anterior cruciate injury is much more common than a posterior cruciate tear, though the symptoms are very similar.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential to keeping the knee stable and balanced.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential to keeping the knee stable and balanced.

The patellar ligament is more commonly called the patellar tendon because it connects the tibia to the patella or kneecap. This is a strong knee ligament that allows for extension at the knee joint. This ligament helps the muscles extend the lower leg when participating in activities like jumping, pushing bike pedals, or kicking a ball.

Another of the major knee ligaments is the transverse meniscomeniscal ligament. This ligament is a band that passes horizontally in front of the knee joint. It connects the lateral and media menisci.

The medial and lateral collateral are the two major extracapsular knee ligaments.
The medial and lateral collateral are the two major extracapsular knee ligaments.

In addition to the major knee ligaments. there are several smaller ones. The oblique and arcuate popliteal ligaments are on the dorsal side of the joint. The oblique popliteal is broad and flat and is attached to the femur and the tibia. The arcuate popliteal is shaped like the letter y and is attached to the fibula with branches extending to the femur and tibia.

Many sports can place great strain on the knee joints.
Many sports can place great strain on the knee joints.

Many physical fitness activities and sports can place great strain on the knee joints because the movements often require twisting, pivoting, or jumping. Such forces can result in ligament injury, especially tears. A torn ligament typically causes swelling and pain when walking as well as an unstable feeling in the knee. A minor tear can self resolve with time, but major injuries often require surgery and prolonged recovery.

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    • A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament.
      By: Alila
      A diagram of the knee, showing the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and lateral collateral ligament.
    • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential to keeping the knee stable and balanced.
      By: Martinan
      The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is essential to keeping the knee stable and balanced.
    • The medial and lateral collateral are the two major extracapsular knee ligaments.
      By: Dirima
      The medial and lateral collateral are the two major extracapsular knee ligaments.
    • Many sports can place great strain on the knee joints.
      By: .shock
      Many sports can place great strain on the knee joints.
    • A torn knee ligament may require surgery and physical therapy.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      A torn knee ligament may require surgery and physical therapy.
    • Some ligament injuries may heal on their own with ice, rest and elevation to reduce pain and inflammation.
      By: Marina Lohrbach
      Some ligament injuries may heal on their own with ice, rest and elevation to reduce pain and inflammation.
    • Minor injuries to the knee ligaments may be treated with rest and massage therapy.
      By: wellphoto
      Minor injuries to the knee ligaments may be treated with rest and massage therapy.
    • A knee may lose some range of motion following damage to ligaments.
      By: Roman Milert
      A knee may lose some range of motion following damage to ligaments.