Stromelysin-1, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-1 (TIMP-1), and proteoglycan fragments were quantified in knee synovial fluid samples in a cross-sectional study of patients who had injury to the anterior cruciate ligament or the meniscus. The average concentrations of stromelysin-1 and TIMP-1 increased 25-fold and 10-fold within the first day after the trauma, respectively, and the concentration of proteoglycan fragments increased 4-fold. From approximately 1-6 months after injury, the levels of these markers were higher after injury to the cruciate ligament than after injury to the meniscus. From 6 months to 18 years after trauma, however, the levels of stromelysin-1 and TIMP-1 in patients who had an injury to the ligament were the same as the levels in patients who had a meniscal lesion. but the levels were increased compared with those for a reference group of healthy volunteers. The molar balance of stromelysin-1 to TIMP-1 in synovial fluid in both groups of injured joints changed from a balance representing an excess of free inhibitor in the normal joint to one representing an excess of free enzyme in the injured joint. The increased release of these markers to joint fluid both early and late after trauma may be caused by a change in the loading patterns in the knee with an injured ligament or meniscus or by synovitis induced by bleeding. The increased release may be associated with the frequent development of posttraumatic osteoarthritis in patients with these injuries.