If you’re suffering from knee pain or instability, it might be time to check in with your doctor. But how can you tell if the problem is a torn ligament?

This video will help you figure out whether you have an ACL tear or another type of knee ligament injury, and help you decide whether it’s time to see a doctor.

My name is Dr. David Geier – orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist, and anti-aging and regenerative medicine expert. I help you feel, look and perform your best, regardless of age or injury.

You’re playing in a pick-up game and you turn to catch the ball. You land awkwardly and feel something pop, but you figure it’s just a strain and go on with the game. Five minutes later, you start walking off the court, but you notice your knee is swollen like a basketball. You realize it might not have been just an ordinary sprain after all.

What causes a knee ligament injury?

Ligament injuries are caused by a specific outside force. This means that the ligament was not injured during normal activity or from overuse, but rather as a result of an impact or other trauma. Examples of things that can cause this type of injury include:

  • Twisting your knee while changing directions
  • Landing awkwardly from a jump
  • Being hit by another player during a sporting event
  • A car accident

Pain and swelling

Pain and swelling are the most common symptoms of a torn ligament. A torn ACL may cause pain in the front of your knee or deep inside your knee, while a torn MCL hurts on the side of your knee. You may also notice swelling, which is normal within 24 hours after an injury. In the case of an ACL tear, the knee swelling, what’s called an effusion, may be significant.

If you have an injured ligament in your knee, there’s a good chance that it will be painful to move around or bend down as far as usual.

Instability in the knee

The knee might feel unstable, moving in ways that it should not, such as giving way when you stand up or walk, being painful when you move the leg in certain directions, feeling unstable when squatting and so on.

Tests to determine if you have torn a ligament.

There are several tests that can help determine if you have torn a ligament in the knee.

X-ray: An x-ray is a picture of your bones in the knee. An x-ray may be ordered to rule out other causes for symptoms such as fractures or dislocations (where the bones move out of place). Often certain x-ray findings suggest tears of a ligament even though you can’t see the ligament itself on the x-rays.

MRI: A magnetic resonance imaging scan can determine damage to the soft tissues around your knee joint, such as ligaments or tendons.

When to see a doctor

If you have pain and swelling and notice instability in your knee, go see a doctor as soon as possible. Pain is one of the most common symptoms of a torn ligament. Swelling is also common and can occur within hours or days after injury. Instability means that when you move your leg, it feels loose or unstable compared to the other leg.


In conclusion, if you think that you may have a ligament tear in your knee, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. You should also consider visiting an orthopedic specialist who can perform tests on your knee to determine whether or not this is the case and can treat the torn ligament if you have one.

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