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Arthroscopy. 1992;8(1):19-22.

What is the terrible triad?

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Division of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.


In 1936 Campbell asserted that "impairment of the anterior crucial and mesial ligaments is associated with injuries of the internal cartilage." O'Donoghue in 1950 called attention to "that unhappy triad (1) rupture of the medial collateral ligament, (2) damage to the medial meniscus, and (3) rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament" and recommended early surgical intervention. In 1955 he reported 33 cases with both medial collateral (MCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, but there were only three lateral meniscus tears reported. Based on a recent report by Shelbourne and Nitz that questions the validity of this unhappy triad, a review of all arthroscopically confirmed acute injuries of second degree or worse to the ACL and MCL was undertaken. Of a total of 52 knees reviewed, 50 knees had third-degree ACL tears and two had second-degree ACL tears. One of the second-degree tears was associated with a second-degree MCL and one with a third-degree ACL tear. Neither had an associated meniscus tear. Forty-five third-degree ACL tears were associated with third-degree MCL tears (group 1) and five with second-degree MCL tears (group 2). Eighty percent (36 knees) of group 1 had lateral meniscus tears. Only 29% of group 1 (13 knees) had associated medial meniscus tears. None of these medial meniscus tears was isolated. Eighty percent (four knees) of group 2 had lateral meniscus tears with only one associated medial meniscus tear. Again, there were no medial meniscus tears in the absence of a lateral meniscus tear. We did not find the combination of injury originally described as the unhappy triad.

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