A lateral collateral ligament (LCL) tear or sprain is an injury that results from a tear or sprain to the LCL. The LCL is a band of tissue running along the outside of your knee. Its role is to hold the knee bones together so that the joint will remain stable and capable of bearing weight. Typical symptoms of an LCL injury are pain and swelling around the knee joint and possible knee instability in the most severe cases. Torn LCLs tend to happen more frequently to males than females. Like ACL injuries, LCL injuries tend to occur among athletes or physically active individuals.
An LCL tear or sprain can result from any of several causes, including:
a direct blow to the inside of the knee that affects the ligament running along the outside of the knee. If the impact is forceful enough, it can cause this ligament to stretch or even tear.. This type of blow is commonly experienced by athletes in sports with plenty of player to player collisions (e.g. hockey or football);
Having to change directions suddenly or to pivot on one leg. This type of situation is frequently experienced in sports like basketball or soccer.
Landing awkwardly after jumping, as may happen when playing volleyball or basketball.
Symptoms Of An LCL Tear Or Sprain
If you have experienced a torn LCL, the main symptom will likely be pain, stiffness, soreness or tenderness along the outer side of the joint (where the ligament is located.)
In addition, your knee will feel as though it is “giving way” when you are placing weight on it. You may also experienced a reduction in the knee’s range of motion.
Treatment Of An LCL Injury
To treat your LCL injury, your doctor will likely suggest that you reduce your activity level and spend as much time as possible sitting or lying down. This will keep your weight off the injured knee and give the injured LCL a chance to recover naturally. Using crutches to reduce the weight on your knee when you are walking is a good idea.
In cases of severe LCL injuries, knee supports (particularly hinged knee braces) can be helpful in allowing your knee ligaments. Your doctor may suggest these also.
In addition to resting your knee, your doctor may suggest that you:
Use ice to reduce the pain, swelling and inflammation of your LCL tear or sprain;
Also use pain killers or NSAIDS if the pain of your LCL injury is severe;
Keep your leg elevated (above the level of your heart) when sitting or lying down;
Wear a knee sleeve, elastic wrap or compression knee brace to apply compression to the injury.
If the injury does not respond to these conservative treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair your damaged LCL ligament.
A physiotherapist will be able to prescribe exercises to gradually strengthen your knee ligaments and increase your knee’s range of motion. Following this exercise program will increase your chances of a full recovery.
How Long Will I Need To Recover From An LCL Tear Or Sprain?
If your injury is only a mild one (i.e. a stretched LCL) , you may need as little as 3-4 weeks to recover from the injury. However, for a grade 2 or 3 injury (tearing of the ligament) recovery time may be as long as 8-12 weeks. For a severe injury, using a hinged knee brace can help to speed recovery.