STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them

May 13, 2011

Must See Sports Injuries Videos

The knee is a unique joint. It must carry the weight of the body and absorb the forces placed on it during sports performance—all while maintaining a large range of motion. However, precisely because of its versatility and mobility, the knee is susceptible to a variety of injuries. Approximately 54 percent of athletes report knee pain each year, which is significant because knee problems can limit playing time or even end a career. <1>

Knee Anatomy

To connect the upper leg to the lower leg, the knee links the femur, tibia and fibula bones. The femur and tibia connect with each other through the meniscus, cartilage that acts as a pad between them to reduce force and friction. While the limited contact area allows for a large range of motion, the knee joint primarily relies on ligaments and muscles for support and stability.

The four major ligaments of the knee are:

  • Anterior Collateral Ligament [ACL] – Prevents the lower leg from sliding forward relative to the upper leg
  • Posterior Collateral Ligament [PCL] – Prevents the lower leg from sliding backward relative to the upper leg
  • Medial Collateral Ligament [MCL] – Prevents the knee from collapsing inward
  • Lateral Collateral Ligament [LCL] – Prevents the knee from collapsing outward

Lower body muscles play a critical role in knee stability. They are also able to move the joint. The quadricep muscle connects to the lower leg through the patellar tendon, which crosses over the front of the knee and helps to straighten the joint to extend the leg. The hamstring muscles cross over the back of the knee and flex the joint to bend the knee.

Types of Injuries

Knee injuries can occur from contact—such as a tackle or body check—or from non-contact, such as landing from a jump, decelerating or changing direction. The  most common knee injury is damage to a ligament, classified as Grade I [minor damage] through Grade III [complete tear or rupture]. Athletes often suffer from O’Donoghue’s Unhappy Triad, which involves an initial tear to the MCL, immediately followed by tears of the ACL and meniscus.<2>

Other injuries, affecting the meniscus, patellar tendon or other supporting structures, can result from improper technique, overuse, natural wear and tear or genetics.

How to Prevent Knee Injuries

Obviously it's impossible to completely eliminate knee injuries, but athletes can take proactive steps to keep their knees healthy and strong. Follow these three guidelines in your training program:

  • Develop lower body strength for additional joint stability. The hamstrings are a particular cause for concern, because weakness there is associated with a higher probability of ACL injuries. Perform exercises like Squats, Deadlifts and RDLs, which develop the quads, hamstrings and other lower body muscles for balanced muscle strength.
  • Develop proper technique for running, jumping and other lower body skills
  • Perform plyometric exercises to improve technique and muscle power, teaching muscles to fire and stabilize the joint immediately after the foot touches the ground.
For more information on the ACL please see the STACK ACL Guide.

Sources:

<1> Senter, C., & Hame, S. [2006]. Biomechanical Analysis of Tibial Torque and Knee Flexion Angle: Implications for Understanding Knee Injury. Sports Medicine, 635-641.

<2> Shelbourne, K., & Nitz, P. [1991]. The O'Donoghue triad revisited: Combined knee injuries involving anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament tears. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 474-477.

 

Topics: ACL INJURY
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Must See
Jadeveon Clowney on Making Big Hits Jadeveon Clowney on Making Big Hits
Views: 6,578,518
Margus Hunt Benches 385 Pounds for Five Reps Margus Hunt Benches 385 Pounds for Five Reps
Views: 21,155,429
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 41,639,049

Featured Videos

Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Views: 1,018,397
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 16,121
Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Views: 70,968
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall
Views: 3,362,798
Paul Rabil's Box Jumps Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 851,533
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,577,381
Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles
Views: 4,333,222
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,499,214

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

Sports Destroy Your Feet: Steps to Take for Healthy Feet on and off the Field By Jim Carpentier, CSCS Size, strength, speed, flexibility and endurance...

How to Prevent Baseball Injuries During the Off-Season

How to Prevent Baseball Injuries During the Off-Season

Preventing ACL Injuries in Soccer Players

Preventing ACL Injuries in Soccer Players

6 Steps for Recovering From a Season-Ending Injury

6 Steps for Recovering From a Season-Ending Injury

Connective Tissue: The Key to Preventing ACL Injuries

Connective Tissue: The Key to Preventing ACL Injuries

Dry Needling: Powerful, Drug-Free Pain Relief for Athletes

Dry Needling: Powerful, Drug-Free Pain Relief for Athletes

2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

6 Simple Tips to Prevent Knee Injuries

6 Simple Tips to Prevent Knee Injuries

How to Treat Piriformis Syndrome

How to Treat Piriformis Syndrome

5 Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Baseball Injuries

5 Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Baseball Injuries

Pectoral Tendon Ruptures and Injury Prevention

Pectoral Tendon Ruptures and Injury Prevention

3 Steps to Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries

3 Steps to Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries

Achilles Tendon Ruptures: Prevention and Recovery

Achilles Tendon Ruptures: Prevention and Recovery

4 Tips to Relieve Muscle Stiffness

4 Tips to Relieve Muscle Stiffness

8 of the Most Ridiculous Off-Field Athlete Injuries of All Time

8 of the Most Ridiculous Off-Field Athlete Injuries of All Time

5 Tips to Intelligently Train Through Lower Back Pain

5 Tips to Intelligently Train Through Lower Back Pain

The Future of Sports Injury Rehabilitation

The Future of Sports Injury Rehabilitation

The Secret Weapon Powering Stephen Curry's Resurgence

The Secret Weapon Powering Stephen Curry's Resurgence

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Hamstring-Focused Workout

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Hamstring-Focused Workout

Predicting the Impact of DeMarco Murray's Hand Injury

Predicting the Impact of DeMarco Murray's Hand Injury

Coaches: Prevent Injuries With the Recovery Management Tool

Coaches: Prevent Injuries With the Recovery Management Tool

4 Strategies to Prevent Tommy John Surgery

4 Strategies to Prevent Tommy John Surgery

Basketball Players: Prevent Ankle Sprains With These 3 Exercises

Basketball Players: Prevent Ankle Sprains With These 3 Exercises

Megan Rapinoes Secret to Staying Healthy

Megan Rapinoe

Impressive Advances in ACL Rehab

Impressive Advances in ACL Rehab

Quarterbacks: 4 Tips to Keep Your Throwing Shoulder Healthy

Quarterbacks: 4 Tips to Keep Your Throwing Shoulder Healthy

STUDY: Imaginary Exercise Helps You Recover Faster From Injury

STUDY: Imaginary Exercise Helps You Recover Faster From Injury

6 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

6 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

Avoid Low-Back Pain With These 7 In-Season Exercises

Avoid Low-Back Pain With These 7 In-Season Exercises

10 Ways to Fix Back Pain

10 Ways to Fix Back Pain

Why Tommy John Surgery Is Ruining Pitchers

Why Tommy John Surgery Is Ruining Pitchers

Eliminate Elbow Pain with These 3 Methods

Eliminate Elbow Pain with These 3 Methods

Avoid ACL Injuries in Softball with PREP

Avoid ACL Injuries in Softball with PREP

Evan Gattis's Protection-Enhanced Catcher's Helmet

Evan Gattis's Protection-Enhanced Catcher's Helmet

How to Prevent In-Season Volleyball Injuries

How to Prevent In-Season Volleyball Injuries

Outsmart Injury With These 4 Predictive Tests

Outsmart Injury With These 4 Predictive Tests

7 Ways to Fix Back Pain

7 Ways to Fix Back Pain

STUDY: Female Athletes Are at Higher Risk of Overuse Injuries

STUDY: Female Athletes Are at Higher Risk of Overuse Injuries

How to Train With Running Blisters

How to Train With Running Blisters

Sports Hernias: What You Need to Know

Sports Hernias: What You Need to Know

5 Things You Can Do to Prevent Muscle Injuries

5 Things You Can Do to Prevent Muscle Injuries

4 Sports Massage Techniques to Relieve Tight Muscles

4 Sports Massage Techniques to Relieve Tight Muscles

Reducing Low-Back Pain: What You Need to Know

Reducing Low-Back Pain: What You Need to Know

YardBarker