An LCL injury (lateral collateral ligament) occurs when the ligament on the outer side of the knee joint is stretched or torn. These injuries commonly result from a direct blow to the inner side of the knee, excessive force on the outside of the knee, or twisting movements.

Woman in gym with an LCL injury.

Symptoms of an LCL Injury

When the LCL is injured, it can cause a range of symptoms, which may vary in severity depending on the extent of the injury. Some common symptoms of an LCL injury include:

  1. Pain: Pain on the outer side of the knee is a primary symptom of an LCL injury. The pain may vary from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the ligament damage.
  2. Swelling: Swelling around the knee joint is common after an LCL injury. The area may become tender and warm to the touch.
  3. Instability: LCL injuries can lead to a feeling of instability in the knee, especially when bearing weight or moving the knee joint.
  4. Stiffness: The knee may feel stiff and limited in its range of motion due to the injury and swelling.
  5. Bruising: In some cases, bruising may develop around the injured area due to bleeding within the tissues.
  6. Popping or a snapping sensation: At the time of injury, you may feel a popping or snapping sensation in the knee.
  7. Difficulty walking: LCL injuries can make it challenging to put weight on the affected leg, leading to limping or an altered gait.

An LCL injury can be similar to other knee injuries, such as ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) or meniscus tears. If you suspect you have a knee injury, it’s crucial to seek a medical evaluation and diagnosis to determine the specific nature and extent of the injury. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent further damage and promote a faster recovery.

Treatment of LCL Injuries

Woman wearing a knee brace after an LCL injury.
Using a knee brace can help during recovery.

Rest

Give your knee ample time to rest and avoid putting weight on it. Rest is crucial in the initial phase of healing to allow the injured ligament to recover and reduce the risk of further damage. However, it’s important to note that rest alone may not be sufficient for severe LCL injuries. Severe or complete LCL tears may require more extensive treatment, which could include bracing, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgical intervention.

Ice Therapy

Applying ice packs to the knee can help reduce swelling and pain. Ice should be applied for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours.

Compression

Using an elastic bandage or knee brace can provide support and minimize swelling. Make sure not to wrap it too tightly, as this could restrict blood flow.

Elevation

Elevating the leg can help reduce swelling, when it’s combined with icing, compression, and rest. It is recommended to keep the leg elevated above heart level whenever possible.

Some additional suggestions include:

  • Wear a knee brace to prevent side-to-side movements  
  • Medication: Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions or are taking other medications.
  • Physical therapy: Once the acute phase has passed, physical therapy can restore strength, stability, and range of motion to the knee.
  • Surgery: Surgery is usually considered for complete tears or when other ligaments are injured along with the LCL. It may involve repairing or reconstructing the ligament using grafts.

Recovery from LCL Injuries

The recovery time for an LCL injury can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the treatment provided. Mild to moderate LCL sprains usually heal within a few weeks to a couple of months with conservative treatment. More severe injuries or cases requiring surgery may require a longer recovery period, often several months.

Rehabilitation exercises are crucial to regain strength, stability, and flexibility in the knee joint. Gradual return to activities and sports should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional to prevent re-injury.

If you suspect an LCL injury, contact us today for diagnosis and treatment.


Additional Resources