Is a Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Injury?
collateral ligament (LCL) is the ligament located in the
knee joint. Ligaments are
thick, strong bands of tissue that connect bone to bone. The LCL runs along the
outside of the knee joint, 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 aspect of the joint.
An injury to the LCL could include straining, spraining, and
partially or completely tearing any part of that ligament. According to Orthogate,
the LCL is one of the more commonly injured ligaments in the knee. Because of
the location of the LCL, it’s common to injure the LCL along with other ligaments
in the knee.
Causes an LCL Injury?
The main cause of LCL injuries is direct-force trauma to the
inside of the knee. This puts pressure on the outside of the knee, where the
LCL is, and causes it to stretch or tear.
Are the Symptoms of an LCL Injury?
Symptoms of an LCL injury can be mild or severe, depending on the
severity of the sprain or if it’s torn. If the ligament is mildly sprained, you
may not have any symptoms at all. For a partial tear or complete tear of the
ligament, your symptoms may include:
- swelling of the knee (especially the outer
- stiffness of the knee joint that can cause
locking of the knee
- pain or soreness on the outside of the knee
- instability of the knee joint (feeling like it’s
going to give out)
Is an LCL Injury Diagnosed?
To diagnose an LCL injury, your doctor will examine your knee and
look for swelling. They’ll also move your knee in various directions to
determine where your pain is and how severe your symptoms are.
If your doctor believes you may have a torn ligament, you may
undergo imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans. These tests will allow your
doctor to see the soft tissues inside the knee.
Are the Treatments for LCL Injuries?
The treatment options for LCL injuries will depend on the
severity of the injury and your lifestyle.
For minor injuries, treatment may include:
- applying ice
- elevating the knee above the heart
- taking a pain reliever
- limiting physical activity until the pain and
swelling are gone
- using a brace (knee immobilizer) or crutches to
protect the knee
- physical therapy or rehabilitation to strengthen
and regain range of motion
In more severe injuries, treatment may also include physical
therapy, rehabilitation, or surgery. Physical therapy strengthens and helps you
regain range of motion. Surgery may include ligament repair or reconstruction.
Surgery doesn’t usually treat injuries to only the LCL. However,
the LCL is often injured along with other ligaments in the knee. In these
cases, surgery is probably necessary.
Can I Prevent an LCL Injury?
It’s difficult to prevent knee ligament injuries because they’re
often a result of an accident or unforeseen circumstance. However, several
preventive measures can help minimize the risk of a knee ligament injury,
- using proper technique and alignment when doing
physical activities, including walking
- stretching regularly to maintain good range of
motion in the body
- strengthening the muscles of the upper and lower
legs to help stabilize the joint
- using caution when playing sports where knee
injuries are common, such as soccer and football
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
For minor injuries, the ligament may heal without any issue.
However, it’s important to note that if the ligament got severely stretched, it
may never regain its prior stability. This means that it’s more likely that the
knee will be somewhat unstable and you could easily injure it again. The joint
could become swollen and sore simply from physical activity or minor injury.
For those with a major injury who don’t have surgery, the joint
will most likely remain unstable and easily injured. You may not be able to do
physical activities that require repetitive use of the knee, including running,
climbing, or biking. Pain could result from minor activities like walking or
standing for extended periods. You may have to wear a brace to protect the
joint during physical activity.
For those who have surgery, the outlook will depend on the
severity of the original injury and the surgical procedure. Generally, you’ll
have improved mobility and stability after the joint completely heals. You may
have to wear a brace or limit physical activities in the future to help prevent
reinjuring the knee.
In knee injuries involving more than just the LCL, treatment and
outlook may be different, as those injuries could be more severe.