What Is an LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament) Injury?
An LCL injury (a torn LCL or a LCL tear) is a strain or tear to the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). The LCL is a band of tissue that runs along the outer side of your knee. It helps to hold the bones together so that your knee joint remains stable when you move.
If your LCL is stretched or torn, how you feel and what type of treatment you’ll need depends on how badly you’ve been hurt. If it’s just a minor sprain, you may get better with self-care at home. But if it’s a bad tear, you may need physical therapy or surgery.
Causes of an LCL Injury
The causes of an LCL injury include:
A direct blow to the inside of the knee. The force of the blow can impact the ligament along the outside edge of the knee enough to stretch it or make it tear. It’s common among athletes who play sports like football or hockey in which players collide with each other.
Changing directions quickly or pivoting on one foot. This can happen during fast-paced sports like soccer or basketball, where players make sharp, sudden turns or stops. Wrestlers can have LCL damage if their legs twist outward in a sudden movement when they’re on the mat.
Landing badly or awkwardly from a jump. This can happen during a basketball or volleyball game.
These injuries tend to happen more often in men and boys than women and girls.
Symptoms of LCL Injury
If you hurt your LCL, it’s common to have pain and swelling. These symptoms are also common:
Your knee may feel stiff, sore, or tender along the outer edge.
Your knee may feel like it could give out when you’re walking or standing.
Your knee may lock in place or catch when you walk, instead of moving smoothly.
You may not have your normal range of motion.
You may have bruising on or around the knee.
LCL Injury Diagnosis
When you visit your doctor, tell them how the injury happened, to check, they’ll do the following:
If you have an LCL injury, your doctor will give it a grade:
Mild or Grade I -- Your LCL is lightly overstretched. Your knee typically is stable.
Moderate or Grade II -- Your ligament is seriously stretched or partially torn. You may have some knee instability.
Severe or Grade III -- Your LCL is completely torn. It’s difficult to put weight on your knee.
LCL Injury Treatment
Your treatment will depend on the grade of your injury.
Mild or Grade I
Moderate or Grade II
Wear a knee brace to prevent side-to-side movements
Severe or Grade III
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatment
Home care for an LCL injury
You’ll probably need to keep your weight off that knee for a while. What else you'll need depends on your injury.
For minor strains and partial tears, you can:
You may need this if you have a more serious LCL tear. Your physical therapist, or PT, will show you how to do exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee. You’ll probably also do aerobic exercise, like walking, and wear a knee brace at first.
If your LCL tore all the way through, you may need to have surgery to repair it. Athletes who want to play sports again may opt for surgery, for instance.
The surgeon may stitch up your torn LCL or attach it to the bone where it tore. It depends on how you damaged your ligament. LCL surgery is an “open-knee procedure,” which means the surgeon can’t work through smaller arthroscopic cuts, as with some other types of knee surgery.
Your doctor injects platelet-rich plasma into the affected area. It’s thought to speed healing but there’ s little clinical evidence that it really helps.
LCL Injury Recovery
Depending on how bad your injury was, your knee may heal within weeks or months.
Once you feel stronger and have no pain, your doctor can check to see if your knee has healed and is stable. After that, you should be able to get back to your regular activities, like playing sports.
Prevention of LCL Injury
If you have had a previous LCL injury, you’re at a greater risk of getting another one in the future. It’s therefore very important that you take precautions to prevent another tear from occurring. Here are some things that you can do:
Wear a knee brace during athletic activity like football or skiing. This supports the ligaments in the knee area and reduces side-to-side movement.
Use correct techniques when doing sports and other physical activities. Positioning and aligning your knee the right way during these activities helps prevent LCL injuries, especially when jumping, lifting, and pivoting.
Do stretches and conditioning exercises before practicing or participating in a game. These will help to strengthen the legs and areas around the knee, as well as to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of an LCL injury.