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Sports Knee and Lower Leg Injury

For athletes of all levels and ages, a sports-related knee or lower leg injury or disorder can take them away from the activities they love. Fractures, ligament tears, chronic knee pain, and other problems are common for active individuals, and they can easily impact both athletic performance and day-to-day life. 

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our Sports Medicine team understands the frustration and pain that can accompany a knee or lower leg injury. Our board-certified orthopaedic specialists are dedicated to returning athletes to the field as quickly and safely as possible, with little to no long-term side effects. 

The Most Advanced Care

UT Southwestern sports medicine specialists offer advanced treatments, including platelet-rich plasma injections, the anatomic approach to ACL reconstruction, and carefully designed injury prevention programs to strengthen a patient’s knees and lower legs.

We work closely with patients to develop individualized treatment plans. 

Our experts treat all sports-related knee and leg injuries, such as:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
  • Anterior knee mechanism injuries such as quadriceps tendonitis and patellar tendonitis (basketball)
  • Knee dislocation
  • Knee ligament or ankle sprains
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury
  • Runner’s knee
  • Stress factors in the lower leg or fibula (figure-skating injuries) 

Symptoms

Symptoms of sports-related knee and lower leg injuries and disorders include:

  • Bruising or tenderness
  • Catching or locking of the knee              
  • Difficulty walking due to instability
  • Loss of full range of motion
  • Knee swelling or stiffness
  • Knee pain, especially at the sides of the knee; pain on the inside of the knee might be an MCL injury; pain on the outside of the knee could mean a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury
  • Popping or crackling sounds in the knee

Diagnosis

Our specialists can often diagnose the cause of knee injury or lower leg injury by studying a patient’s medical history and conducting a physical exam. Sometimes, as with a torn MCL or ACL, the doctor might order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get a better look at the ligament.

For recreational athletes or weekend warriors, we might recommend physical therapy or rehabilitation before an MRI because the goal is to heal the lower leg or knee before surgery is required. Often, rehabilitation is enough to heal the knee or leg.

Treatments

Our specialists offer safe, effective treatments focused on reducing downtime and helping patients achieve their long-term performance goals. When establishing a treatment plan, we always consider the knee or leg injury, the patient’s objectives, and the full spectrum of treatment options available. 

Whenever possible, our team offers nonsurgical treatments before recommending surgery. These treatments include:

  • ACL injury-prevention programs teach athletes how to incorporate normal exercise into their routine to strengthen the ACL. In addition, our program instructs patients how to jump and land in ways that decrease the chance of an ACL injury.
  • Casting and functional bracing for fractures or severe sprains provide additional support.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs are designed with the athlete’s physiology, athletic goals, and injury history in mind.
  • Platelet-rich plasma injections, in which platelets from the patient’s own blood are injected into the injured knee or leg tissue, can speed healing. The platelets release growth factors into the injured ligament, tendon, or joint, promoting new cell growth and regeneration.  

Minimally Invasive Surgery for the Knee and Lower Leg

Our sports medicine specialists are trained to recognize patients who would benefit most from surgery. Our doctors are experts in minimally invasive surgery, including arthroscopic, mini-open, and open approaches.

In arthroscopic surgery, a small camera is inserted into a tiny incision in the leg. The camera allows the doctor to view the joint and reconstruct it using small surgical instruments. Our expertise in arthroscopic and minimally invasive surgery can often decrease a patient’s recovery time from several weeks to mere days. 

We also offer the anatomic approach to ACL reconstruction. In this procedure, the surgeon reconstructs the ACL in its natural placement, resulting in positive outcomes for patients undergoing ligament reconstruction surgery. 

Following surgery, our intensive physical therapy programs help strengthen the knee or lower leg and get the patient back to competition quickly.

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