To Knee, or Not to Knee

It used to seem that if an athlete were to “blow out his or her knee,” that was it . . . career over. There weren’t the modern miracles of science and medicine to repair damages to such an integral part of athleticism, the knee.

Careers are not over when a player hurts his or her knee anymore. Two Hastings College athletes, Cory Marmet (football) and Maria Van Kirk (basketball), sat down with me to discuss their injuries and the process back to playing at full strength.

Both Van Kirk and Marmet mentioned that there was a “pop” and then they dropped to the ground, their worst fears had been realized, a blown-out knee.

When referring to blowing out the knee, it usually means that an athlete has damaged one of the ligaments. The ligaments can all be repaired surgically, but have extended rehabilitation times, depending on the amount of damage and to which ligament. For example, ACL and PCL injuries almost always require surgery, and athletes with MCL and LCL damage are advised to be operated.

Maria Van Kirk suffered both a torn ACL, and a partial tear in her medial meniscus. The knee has two menisci, essentially providing extra stability, “padding,” to the tibia and femur.

Each knee consists of four ligaments: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL), and each serve a specific purpose when keeping the knee in place, allowing for athletes to run, jump, plant, and cut.

The MCL runs between the tibia and femur on the inner part of the knee, and assists in pressures than come on the outer part of the knee, by holding the knee in place moving side-to-side. The most common injuries to the MCL happen during contact—when the knee is extended and takes a hit to the outer side, causing damage. After surgery, the recovery lasts about six to nine-months with proper rehabilitation.

Cory Marmet also tore his ACL and medial meniscus, but his scar has healed up much better than Van Kirk’s.

The LCL is the brother to the MCL in the sense that it, too, protects from side-to-side movement. However, since it sits on the outer part of the knee, it provides the support if a blow were to come on the inner part of the knee. These injuries happen in a similar regard to the MCL, however contact is made from the inside of the knee. These injuries are far less common, but often have a nine to 12-month recovery time.

The PCL actually sits on the inside of the knee, connecting the back of the tibia to the front of the femur along the inside of the joint. The purpose of the PCL is to control the forward and backward movements, preventing any damage that could be caused in that regard. Many don’t injure their PCL in the same way an ACL would be damaged, since the PCL is much stronger. The most common ways to damage the PCL is to fall on a bent knee, or to be hit on the front of the knee while the leg is extended.

The ACL is paired with the PCL, and often times leads to season-ending injuries for athletes when damaged because of the six to nine-month recovery time after surgery. The purpose of the ACL is to also support back-and-forth movement, and to protect the tibia from moving into the femur. Injuries to the ACL often times occur in pivot motions, when the body’s momentum is moving in the opposite direction of the knee, causing a rupture of the ACL.

Van Kirk hurt her knee during a basketball game. She had just started to dribble on the left wing and dropped. What caused her injury was the momentum dissonance between her knee and the rest of her body.

Marmet injured himself in a similar way. He was mid-play during spring football and fell to the turf after a misstep. When Marmet was running, his knee buckled awkwardly and led to the tearing of his ACL and medial meniscus.

Both Marmet and Van Kirk are recovering from their respective injuries and hope to be at full strength by the coming seasons.

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