Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Injury

The LCL is the ligament located inside the knee joint that runs along the length of the knee from the outside of the bottom of the thighbone (femur) to the top of the lower-leg bone (fibula). The LCL helps keep the knee joint stable, especially the outer part of the joint.

 

An LCL injury, i.e., a strain, sprain or tear, is uncommon but does occur, usually from an impact (a kick or throw) to the knee or leg during a contact sport such as football or cricket.

 

Measuring an LCL Injury

There are three grades of injury:

  • Grade 1 – The ligament stretches but doesn’t loosen.
  • Grade 2 – The ligament partly ruptures.
  • Grade 3 – The ligament completely tears causing instability.

Treatment options depend on the severity of the injury, age and occupation.

There are three grades of LCL injury

Symptoms of an LCL Injury

Symptoms vary with severity. If the damage is mild, the knee will feel tender and swollen. It may also hurt to put weight on it.

With a Grade 2 LCL injury, symptoms are similar to Grade 1 but more intense. Along with swelling, you’ll feel pain and tenderness on the inside of your knee.

Treatment

The available options for LCL injury treatment depend on the level of damage. Some doctors advise following the RICE method before seeking medical assistance:

  • Rest—Allow your body to heal itself. Sometimes this works miracles. Cut your activity level and avoid putting weight on your knee with a walking stick or other walking aid.
  • Ice—Apply ice packs or ice wrapped in towels regularly to reduce inflammation and swelling. (Tip: Bags of frozen peas work too.)
  • Compression—To limit swelling, use bandages or a brace that protects and compresses the joint. There are different brace options for different lifestyles.
  • Elevation—Raise your knee above the level of your heart to reduce swelling as an effective swelling treatment.

Your knee may hurt more at night when you have less control over your movements. Pain relief medication can help. Please consult your doctor.

If you think you’ve suffered a severe LCL injury, seek professional help. Most doctors can diagnose an LCL injury just by examination; however, with excessive pain and swelling or potential damage to other ligaments, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan or X-ray may be required.

Surgery for an LCL injury is really only necessary with a full rupture. In this case, you have two options:

  • If the ligament is detached from the bone, surgery can reattach it.
  • If the ligament has torn in two, the ends will need to be stitched back together. Sometimes the rupture is irreparable. In this event, a surgeon will graft tendon from another part of the body or a donor to replace it.

Usually, these procedures are arthroscopic, or keyhole, surgeries. More complex scenarios, however, may require open knee surgery.

How long will it take to recover?

The severity of your injury will determine your recovery time. Count on one-to-eight weeks, and longer for more serious cases.

Be sure to follow professional guidance. See your physio and use supportive equipment such as a brace, splint or walking aid.