Top 5 Craziest Knee Injuries

While I was recovering from my ACL surgery, I took solace in knowing that literally thousands of other people besides me had suffered through the same ordeal and come out the other end largely unaffected. Guys like NFL running backs Gale Sayers and Willis McGahee became my new role models due to their successful battles with ACL rehabilitation. Sayers especially, since he played in the NFL during the 1960s: a time when knee surgeries were about as advanced as the Ethiopian space program. Dr. James Andrews, a world-renowned surgeon, described knee surgery during Sayers’ time as a “mistake” that “didn’t work.”  Think he’s kidding? One of the techniques surgeons used in those days was to “fold up” torn ligaments. And if the folding technique didn’t work, they would actually try to staple the two ends of a torn ligament together. Both of those ideas sound exactly like mistakes that won’t work.

Despite these unreliable surgical techniques, Sayers somehow returned to the NFL the next season after his injury and led the league in rushing yards. Sayers recently had a total knee replacement, and when the doctors opened him up they discovered that not only was his ACL gone, his PCL was “stretched and frayed”, his MCL was in a similar state of disrepair, and the joint itself was filled with dust and bone fragments due to his utter lack of menisci to prevent his bones from rubbing against one another. How this man was able to play football, I have no idea. My theory is that his surgeon in 1968 took one look at his destroyed knee, said “fuck it”, and just removed the part of his brain that feels pain instead.

Gale Sayers: A man whose body was held together entirely by bandaids and prayers

In addition to reading about athletes who had successfully returned to their sports after knee surgery, I went on Youtube and watched videos of their injuries just to get some perspective on how severe their injuries actually were. The injuries I saw ranged from “gruesome” to “dainty”, which is pretty much what I expected. However, these 5 videos stood out as being the most noteworthy.

Note: As I’m sure you know, critics of various things typically use a “star” system to rate whatever it is they’re criticizing (1 star = bad, 5 stars = bonerific, whatever.) Well, I find that boring and pedestrian, so I’m going to rate these videos not in stars but in Shaun Livingstons. This is because Shaun Livingston’s knee injury is easily the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen, and should forever be the golden standard against which knee injuries are measured. Needless to say, it’s #1 on this list, and that should surprise nobody since the video of Livingston’s injury is like The Passion of the Christ for knees.

This man’s knee has endured more suffering than you or I will ever be able to comprehend

The Shaun Livingston rating system will operate thusly:

1 Shaun – Weak. My grandmother tears her ACLs harder than you.

2 Shauns- Looks painful, but still watchable.

3 Shauns- “Whoa, that’s definitely gonna require surgery.”

4 Shauns – Fairly gruesome, bordering on full Sean Livingston status


#5: Willis McGahee

Before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2003, Willis McGahee was a star running back for the University of Miami. He broke several school records during his time at Miami, and was considered a top-5 talent in the draft. His draft stock fell, however, following his injury against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. In the 4th quarter, McGahee caught a screen pass from Ken Dorsey and looked to turn upfield with the ball. Unfortunately for him, Buckeyes safety Will Allen decided right then and there that Willis McGahee’s left knee was an enemy that absolutely had to be dealt with immediately. Allen’s hit on McGahee could be described as a “tackle” in the same way a punch in the face from Mike Tyson could be described as a “poke.” Will Allen hit McGahee’s knee like an out of control train hitting a popsicle stick. McGahee’s ACL, PCL, and MCL all immediately became things of the past. The highlight of this video is the announcer’s completely unfazed, matter-of-fact “yep” when his clearly-shaken partner points out that McGahee has just suffered a serious injury.

Rating: 4 Sean Livingstons

#4: Mary Pierce

Mary Pierce is a French-American tennis player who has won 18 World Tennis Association singles titles, and most recently reached the singles finals in the US Open and French Open in 2005. The reason why she last reached the finals in 2005 is that in October of 2006 she tore her ACL in a match against Vera Zvonareva and has never fully recovered. This video is not notable for its knee-related carnage, but more for Mary Pierce’s seemingly disproportionately over-the-top reaction to what looks like little more than a slight stumble. At first glance, you can’t even tell that she’s hurt. That is, until she flops to the ground and unleashes a bloodcurdling shriek that scientists didn’t know human vocal cords could produce until that day. The sound that came out of Mary Pierce after she tore her ACL caused every dog within a 50 mile radius to frantically run into a wall at full speed in an attempt to knock itself unconscious. If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you already know what Mary Pierce sounded like because they used a recording of her scream as the sound the Nazgul make.

Rating: 3 Shaun Livingstons (2 Bonus Shauns awarded for spot-on Nazgul impression)

#3: Bill Gramatica

NFL kickers aren’t known for being particularly tough. Unless you’re talking about Sebastian Janikowski, who looks like the only kicker in NFL history who could (or would) choke a man to death while converting a 50-yard field goal. But we’re not talking about him, we’re talking about Bill Gramatica, who is best known for tearing his own ACL while performing a celebratory leap in the 1st quarter of a game against the New York Giants. With the score knotted at 0-0 with a little less than 8 minutes to play in the first quarter, Gramatica kicked a fairly unimpressive 43 yard field goal to give the Cardinals an early lead. Gramatica, however, thought that he’d somehow won the Super Bowl in overtime and launched into a celebration that could conservatively be described as “excessive.” Having completely lost his grip on reality, Gramatica launched himself into the air and and threw a hefty uppercut at one of the imaginary fans rushing the field in his Super Bowl fantasy. After following through on his air punch and executing a graceful 90 degree turn in midair, Bill came down awkwardly on his right leg and ruptured his ACL, which shattered his fantastical daydream and quickly brought him back to reality. Bill Gramatica brings new meaning to the term “non-contact injury.”

Rating: 1 Shaun Livingston

#2: Tony Allen

This entry falls under the category of “Foolish Decisions That Are Immediately Regretted.” On January 10th, 2007, the Boston Celtics were playing the Indiana Pacers in a tight game. With about 3 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Pacers led by a score of 68-63. This was roughly the time that Celtics swingman Tony Allen decided to take matters into his own hands and inject some life into the game. With the ball at the top of the key, Allen drove strong to the paint and was fouled by a Pacer in the process. Despite the whistle having been blown while he was still in 3-point range, Allen decided that he would finish off the sick-nasty dunk he had planned anyway. Everybody else on the floor had stopped playing long ago, but Allen was determined to finish strong. Unfortunately for Allen, he graduated with a double doctorate from the Bill Gramatica School for Future ACL Patients. Not only did he perform an unnecessary jump that ultimately resulted in his own injury, he smashed the ball off the rim and missed a completely uncontested dunk, literally adding insult to injury. Here’s my best guess as to what was going through his mind during this series of events.

“Ok Number 1, let’s see… how you like… THIS MOVE! STUTTER STEP BIOTCH! Oh shit, here I go to the rack. Tony Allen is gonna dunk this ball so hard. What’s that? A whistle? Shit. Well, this ball is definitely getting dunked anyway. That is god damn happening. Here I go… TOMAHAWK JAM MOTHERFU- oh damn it! Well, it didn’t go in, but at least I looked gooOOOOOWWWWW!!”

Rating: 4 Shaun Livingstons

#1: Shaun Livingston

Well here it is, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is without a doubt the single most horrific injury I have ever seen. I’m sure worse things have happened in the world, but Shaun Livingston’s knee injury is what my nightmares are made of. Shaun Livingston was a highly-touted high school basketball player who opted to skip college and declare himself eligible for the NBA draft following his senior year of high school. The Los Angeles Clippers drafted him with the 4th overall pick in the draft, unknowingly setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to Shaun’s knee being completely obliterated. While playing against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26, 2007, Livingston took off on a fast break, juked a Bobcats defender and missed a layup. Unfortunately for Shaun, that missed layup was to be the least of his worries on that day. I would say that Livingston landed awkwardly, but that would be demeaning to both Shaun Livingston and the word “awkwardly.” Saying that Shaun Livingston landed awkwardly is like referring to the Battle of Antietam as a “dust-up”. Livingston landed horrendously on his left leg, causing the following injuries to his knee:

-Torn ACL

-Torn PCL

-Torn lateral meniscus

-Badly sprained MCL

-Dislocated kneecap

-Dislocated tibia-femoral joint

That’s the kind of injury list that most groups of people don’t accumulate in a lifetime. Shaun Livingston had the bad fortune to suffer each of those injuries simultaneously. I can’t really think of anything funny to say about this one, but I can honestly say that I am beyond amazed that he was able to return to the NBA in 2008. He is currently playing for the Charlotte Bobcats which, in case you weren’t paying attention, is the team he was playing against when the laws of physics got together and took a dump on his knee. Maybe they felt sorry for playing a part in his injury and felt they owed it to him to give him a shot. Either way, here it is:

Warning: This video is pretty graphic, so if you have a weak stomach, maybe it’s just better to imagine what happened to Shaun Livingston. Because frankly, this is awful. This video makes the writers of the Saw movies cringe. If a group of anti-basketball lobbyists wanted to scare an auditorium full of schoolchildren out of playing basketball forever, this is the video they would show. You’ve been warned.

Rating: 1 million Shaun Livingstons

About Andrew Sacks

I'm a 27-year-old former college baseball player, currently working as a strength and conditioning coach in Baltimore, MD.
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37 Responses to Top 5 Craziest Knee Injuries

  1. Susan says:

    Thanks so much for the Sean Livingston video. When you put a warning, like don’t watch if you have a weak stomach, I said “Pfft what does he know? My stomach is plenty strong, I’m going to be a doctor in 3 months, I can handle a knee injury video”. Yea, not so much… I am now nauseous, and yet, I still watched it like 3 times. After seeing that video, my own injury doesn’t seem so bad (I had a PCL recon back in November).

  2. classic17 says:

    I tore my left ACL my freshman year of college (2004) in what was comparable to a Willis McGahee. About three weeks ago I tore my right one in what was probably a Mary Pierce minus the scream.

    I’m really not looking forward to this next surgery.

    • Andrew Sacks says:

      If it’s scream-free, it’s not a Mary Pierce. A Mary Pierce without a scream is like a martini without gin. The fact that you suffered a Willis McGahee is pretty noteworthy though, since injuries that catastrophic rarely happen outside of helicopter crashes.

      As for your next surgery/recovery, I cannot recommend Netflix enough.

  3. Paola says:

    Hey, just wanted to say your blog is pretty awesome. I had an ACL reconstruction in my right knee 7 weeks ago. I am disappointed that I didn’t find this during the exciting time in my life 6 weeks ago, lol. Using the bathroom was pretty difficult, but a lot harder as a girl where we have to sit… all the time. You are dead on about the love hate relationship towards the brace, which I still wear out just because I hate the limp I still have and hope that when people see the limp they see the brace and get it!

  4. I had a really bad knee injury the beginning of this year, happened exactly as Sean Livingston
    Torn acl, pcl, and lcl, ripped the hamstring of my tibia and tore open the back of my knee capsule.
    You can find a pic of my knee at the gym before the ambulance got there at my half done recovery blog

  5. Oh god, watching Shaun Livingston’s leg bend that way made me shudder.

  6. Elliot Williams says:

    thanks a lot man for the blog, i have had my ACL and meniscus done twice, the the MCL done once. when i found out that i had retore my Acl i was vivid but i had to find the positives and as what u said to try to get some humor in it. its nice to read about other people who share the same struggle as me, i read your blog this during a time when my knee is not coaperating and it is very inspiring. i wrestle in the winter and its hard on my knee. thanks a lot man! i hope your knee stays strong throughout the rest of your life

  7. Harrison says:

    Definitely some garish injuries on your list. In my own estimation the most absurd knee injury to a professional athlet belongs to tanner Hall. He’s a professional skier who 3 years ago massively overshot a massive jump and essentially fell freely from around 70′. Completely destroyed his tibial plateaus, ACLs, PCLs in both knees simultaneously. And he fractures his hip and pelvis. They never released video of the wreck, but if you google image search tanner hall stevens pass wreck you’ll come upon a picture of a jump that will make your trousers brown in a hurry. He’s just getting back to full strength now and has not let off the gas pedal one bit. Oh and a few years before he shattered both ankles simultaneously and there is video of that crash that you just need to see. It was a savage fall.

  8. Julie Casas says:

    I did the livingston injuy in front of my kids. Showed them the video and my daughters said thats what you did mommy, finally I have my mri today its been one week today. when I went to the er I was jealous of the lady going into labor, at least her pain wil be over in a few days and she has a baby to take home :). Thank you for this blog, I had no clue how to describe my knee bending the wrong way and going under me. At least my kids are being creative with jokes.

  9. Julie Casas says:

    I did the livingston injuy in front of my kids. ( didnt cry, but made the same angry oh shit grunt) Showed them the video and my daughters said thats what you did mommy, finally I have my mri today its been one week today. when I went to the er I was jealous of the lady going into labor, at least her pain wil be over in a few days and she has a baby to take home :). Thank you for this blog, I had no clue how to describe my knee bending the wrong way and going under me. At least my kids are being creative with jokes.

  10. South#64 says:

    I had a Shaun Livingston almost 2 years ago. ACL,MCL,PCL, Lateral meniscus, dislocated/snapped patella and tendon, tibia was torn off and broken in 2 places…. Very similar in how his happened too. Coming down from an attempted dunk, landed arkwardly.. And yeah. I’m just getting back to some decent basketball… Playing in Div2, was a Div1 guy. When it happened I didn’t scream or cry, I was actually very calm about it.. I think I was in too much shock to react to it.

    • Ken Parker says:

      I wanted to see how your recovery has been progressing? How close are you back to normal?
      I ruptured all 4 ligaments, patella tendon away from tibia, post latteral corner and tore both meniscus. All from a twisting dislocation because of a motorcycle accident, at the end of 2013.
      They fixed everything except the acl & pcl, right after the accident. Waited a few months to try and repair the pcl, but it still failed and ended up with a salvage TKR.
      I was up and walking without any assistance by week three(which is good since I spent 8 months on crutches). ROM is around 120* with almost full extension, and can golf and ride bicycles without any pain or looseness, but it is what it is.


  11. Will&Jess says:

    After an injury that can lead to a Knee Replacement, my biggest worry is the cost in a hospital. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice and you’re stuck there but while you’re sitting there, the cost of being in that hospital, the surgery and everything that comes with it can come to mind.

    I know it did for me. Anytime I’m in a hospital for a even a single day I’m worried about what it might cost me. I did find a cost calculator though that really helped find out the bill before it came in the mail. I wanted to share it with all of you as I think those who are considering surgery yourselves might find it useful.

    It customizes to your area, your age, pre-exisiting conditions and even your insurance to give the most accurate price. There are quite a few other features you can play with to get it tweaked to your situation but overall, great tool. I hope it helps anyone looking to know what they might have to pay after they leave the hospital and then wait for that bill!

  12. daniel says:

    Awesome website. Just had PCL/MCL reconstruction. Tore it ON VACATION in Mexico. I went from all-inclusive paradise resort, to watching 56 episodes of Breaking Bad in my old bed at my mom’s house.

    Anyways, the “have a sense of humor” really put things into perspective. Thanks!

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  14. ibz says:

    This list waz perfect bro…..shaun livingston iz really a legend….i m inspired of him az I also had a knee injury while attempting a useless & stupid 360 jump kick in da gym and dislocated my knee….i had a disrupted retinacullum and a tear in meniscus…..i did nt go for a surgery as doctors said no need….nd told me to focus on physiotherapy…..i m a 15 year BB player….nd this injury iz almost 11 months old and I started to play only after 2 mnths of rest……but my knee sometimes partly dislocates while just sitting I sometimes tighten my quadriceps with a little outwards angle….any suggestion would be grateful.thnx 🙂

  15. Jonas says:

    You shouldnt’ have so many assumptons i.e Shaun Livingstone. That was a terrible injury but he’s 85-90% recovered now and plays in the league full time. The most painful thing about an injury isn’t that it happens, that it hurts. Although well that hurts. No it’s that you miss out on things, that you might not ever be the same. That’s what you lose.

    A lot of people have knee replacement or bad surgeries and all this so to glorify Livingstone injury as the “worst” isn’t exactly accurate because well he’s fine now. Sort of. He plays in the NBA so it can’t be that bad. A lot of people don’t have insurance coverage, a lot of people are in other countries and don’t have treatment.

    • Andrew Sacks says:

      Your grammar is pretty awful so I’m not 100% certain what point you’re trying to make. Just because Shaun Livingston is “fine now”, that doesn’t make his injury any less gruesome. That said, I think you may have missed the entire point of this article. Quit being a Debbie Downer.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Entertaining myself on day 3 after ACL repair surgery by reading your blog (which, incidentally, I found after googling “how long to poop after knee surgery”) and thought I would add my own story to your list. Not sure I rate five Shaynes, but I might be close. On April 22, I took my son out to our trampoline to burn off some energy before school-it was the first day back after vacation and he was a crazed mess. The trampoline on its own would have been fine; it was the decision to bring the playground ball with us that I regret. I jumped up, the ball rolled to my spot, and I landed on it with my left foot, causing me to slide down at an awkward angle. I heard the pop when I landed. It took 5 paramedics to get me of the damn trampoline. MRI of my knee three days later showed complete tears of the ACL and MCL, extensive damage to both the medial and lateral menisci, a patellar fracture, a tibial plateau fracture, a huge bone bruise, and what my surgeon described as “a bunch of little things not really worth mentioning since they will heal on their own…” I spent the first six weeks on the couch watching my knee slowly stop being the size of my head, was on crutches until July, and kept the short knee brace on until I finally had the ACL surgery last Thursday. I can’t wait to be brace- free! Thanks for entertaining me more than last night’s oxycodone/Rocky Horror combination!

  17. Jennifer says:

    Uh…Shauns. Damn autocorrect!

  18. Tim says:

    Thanks for the much needed humor. I livingston’ed myself about two months ago fully tearing a decade old partial tear. Doc had lots of arthritis to remove from 30 years of soccer to include a meniscus and cartilage tear. Being relegated to a PCM machine for 8 weeks. Anyone else had this experience? Anyone have their car modified to drive with the left foot? Tryin to get back to work sometime soon.

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  21. Ken Parker says:

    56 years old and are 13 months into my knee recovery. Hit broadside by Ford F-250 while riding my motorcycle, here is the list.
    Ruptured- acl,pcl,mcl,lcl,plc,illiotibia band, patella tendon, torn medial & latteral meniscus,broke tibia & fibula, open twisting dislocation.
    After seven surgeries and 8 months on crutches, they gave up and did a salvage total knee replacement.
    The knee is stiff (a bunch of scar tissue), but I am walking without a limp, can ride a bike but running is out of the question. Tougher to recover at my age!

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  30. ANNETTE says:

    You are hilarious! !! I’m recovering from a partial knee replacement and lying on the couch reading your blog, laughing out loud, loudly. I do not have the right stomach to actually watch the videos at the moment, but love the descriptions. I am enjoying reading many of your blogs. Love the Gale Sayers comic….Hope you are all healed up. Thanks! !!!

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