Back in the Dark Ages if you suffered a knee injury there was a good chance the “doctor’ would saw your leg off. Tada! No more knee problem.

Thankfully medicine has advanced to a point where surgeons are not so quick to get you on the table to fix a knee injury. In fact, a recent study done at the University of Alberta determined not all knee injuries require surgery to correct the problem.

“There really is no cookie cutter treatment. It’s hard to say that with any specific injury that this one never need surgery and this one always needs surgery,” said Brynna Maloughney, a Certified Athletic Therapist at Collegiate Sports Medicine in Red Deer, Alberta.

One variable is who has suffered the injury and what do they need to get back to, she added.

“If it’s an elite athlete going back to a hard cutting sport like soccer, nine times out of ten they’re going to need surgery for that, but if we’re looking at a weekend warrior not going back to a sport, there are lots of people who don’t have ACL’s(anterior cruciate ligament) and are moving around just fine.”

An injury to the MCL is a good example of an injury which could allow you to avoid being cut open.Maloughney says they rarely see it fully tear and so some conservative treatment rehab normally would get the person back to their sport.

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid suffered a severe knee injury but fortunately for him and the Oilers, surgery was not required. His problem was with the posterior cruciate ligament which prevents the thigh from sliding off the front edge of your shin bone. While it’s uncommon most cases apparently can be fixed without surgery.

However, there are some PCL tears which require a date with the surgeon according to Melanie Tuck, a CAT and the president and owner of Collegiate Sports Medicine.

“A saddle bronc athlete is a good example. They’re spurring so their heels are coming back and it actually is the one sport that I found if I had a saddle bronc athlete with a PCL deficiency I’d get them to get it reconstructed,” she said. “They don’t do well at all and some football athletes will need one but luckily we can brace them for sport.”

The surgery option was basically the only option when there was a tear to one of the ligaments or the meniscus in the knee, especially back in the early 70’s and 80’s. Tuck said the mantra was like when in doubt, take it out.

“Everybody that had a cartilage tear, they would go in and remove them and what would happen now is that little buffer between the bones wasn’t there and people would get arthritis,” she said.

Tuck says through research and rehab probably one in five people walking around today with no pain, no problem, has a cartilage tear and they don’t know about it.

“We try to not focus on the fact that there is a cartilage tear. We more so focus on the function-is the knee swelling, is the knee causing them to lose sleep at night. If the knee is catching, locking, giving way, swelling, those are the big-ticket items that we need to now circle back and say o.k., you have a tear and it’s giving you problems, then we look at surgery.”


So, in this area the medical community has gone from one spectrum to the other when it comes to treating tears. It is like what you don’t know won’t hurt you in some respect.

“As long as their range of motion is full and that knee is doing what that person wants it to do, we carry on,” said Tuck.

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