The LCL (lateral collateral ligament) is a ligament, or 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.
For many people, LCL injury happens when they have a sharp blow to the inside of the knee. (When the inner knee is hit very hard, the force of the blow can impact the ligament along the outside edge of the knee enough to stretch it or make it tear).
Men and boys are much more likely to have LCL injuries than girls and women. It’s common among athletes who play sports like football or hockey in which players collide with each other. It can also happen during fast-paced sports like soccer or basketball, in which 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.
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.
- Your foot may feel numb or weak, along with your knee pain, if it’s a severe tear.
- You may have bruising on or around the knee.
When you visit your doctor, tell him how the injury happened, and he’ll examine your knee. He may put pressure on the side of the knee when the leg is both bent and straight to see if the LCL is damaged. He may also take an X-ray to make sure that you don’t have a broken bone, and an MRI to confirm that your LCL is stretched or torn.
You’ll probably need to keep your weight off that knee for a while. What else you'll need depends on your injury, but these treatments are common:
- First aid at home. For minor strains and partial tears, you may start to feel better if you put ice on your injured knee, wrap it in an elastic bandage, elevate it, and stay off of that leg (you may need crutches until your injury heals). NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that can treat pain and swelling may also be helpful. They include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
- Physical therapy. 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.
When Will My Knee Be Better?
Depending on how bad your injury was, your knee may heal within weeks, or it may be a matter of months.
Once you feel stronger and have no pain, your doctor can check so see if your knee has healed and is stable. After that, you should be able to play sports again.