Lindsey Vonn’s knee injury explained

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DENVER -- American skiing star Lindsey Vonn crashed during a World Ski Championships race in Austria and had to be airlifted to a hospital with severe knee injuries.

Her official diagnosis is a torn ACL, torn MCL, and a fracture on her tibial plateau.

Her injuries are severe enough that she’ll need surgery.

But will she be back on skis, or could this end her career?

Dr. Omer Mei-Dan of CU Sports Medicine in Boulder says a torn ACL and MCL is one of the most common knee injuries they see in sports medicine—several each week at their clinic alone.

Out of the gate, the Olympics champion skier chases another record. But instead, 42 seconds in, she races into danger.

Her right knee buckles after landing a jump and she tumbles down the mountain—along with her hopes of skiing for this season.

“We have the ACL, which is the anterior cruciate ligament,” says Dr. Mei-Dan, showing the location of the primary knee ligament on a plastic medical model.

It’s the ligament Vonn tore, which keeps the knee stable, and will have to be surgically reconstructed.

“When you tear your ACL it means the knee went where it shouldn’t,” he says.

“The second ligament that was torn was MCL (medial collateral ligament), as he points to the ligament to the outside of the knee. “Many times, the MCL will heal by itself. Spontaneously, with time,” he says.

The third injury—a fracture to the tibial plateau behind the knee cap and at the tip of the tibia--will also heal by itself.

“I think we tackle ACL injuries quite well. And most high-level athletes get back to play within six to 12 months,” says Dr. Mei-Dan.

He says 2012 NFL MVP winner Adrian Peterson suffered nearly a carbon copy injury in 2011.

“Adrian Peterson is a great example. He had his best season ever. And that was 6-7 months after his ACL injury and surgery,” he says.

He too believes Vonn will triumph from her frightening spill—with a knee as strong as one that’s never been injured.

“Within the right hands, there’s no question in my mind, she’ll get back to high-level activity and compete. She’ll be back,” he says.

Long-term, Dr. Mei-Dan says some people with this type of injury suffer from arthritis in the knee joint 10 to 15 years after their injury.