Lateral Collateral Ligament Tear & Sprain
The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) is the thin band of tissue in the outer side of the knee connecting the femur in the thigh to the fibula in the calf. It contributes to the stabilization of the knee and controls the side-to-side motion relating to quick turns and stops in motion. While less common than other knee conditions, an LCL tear can occur in several different ways. A sharp blow to the area, excessive and repeated twisting of the knee, or being hyper-extended past the normal range of motion are all potential causes of a tear.
LCL Tear and Sprain Symptoms & Diagnosis
Symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the injury; if the injury is mild, there may be no symptoms at all. The symptoms of a partial or complete LCL tear include:
- Mild to intense pain in the outer area of the knee, which may be accompanied by bruising, swelling and tenderness
- An unstable sensation in the knee, as if the joint is weak or may give way unexpectedly
- A sensation of the knee feeling extremely stiff or locked during motion
- There may be numbness in the knee or foot if the nerve near the ligament is pressured or damaged from the injury
LCL Tear and Sprain Severity Grade
The severity of the injury and the resulting symptoms can be classified by your doctor:
Grade I LCL Sprain
This grade of LCL sprain may have mild pain and tenderness plus some swelling. This can be a result of stretching or small tears in the ligament, but not a complete tear. This type of injury to the LCL generally won't affect knee stability but runs the risk of repeated injury if left untreated. Grade I sprains can heal in a few weeks.
Grade II LCL Sprain
These are characterized by a partial tear in the ligament. There can be moderate to severe pain along with increased tenderness and noticeable swelling of the joint. Bruising may be evident in the area. The knee will feel loose and unstable as if it were going to give way when weight is applied. With proper treatment, a Grade II sprain can heal in about six weeks.
Grade III LCL Sprain
In the instance of a Grade III LCL sprain, the ligament has completely torn. The knee will be unable to support weight, and this type of injury can lead to additional injuries in supporting joint structures. The pain and swelling will be intense, and possibly cause bleeding under the skin. Depending on the state of the nerves from injury, there may be no pain at all if they've been damaged. This type of injury requires a significant amount of time to heal, between 3 - 4 months. Surgery may be needed.
Your doctor will be able to determine the severity of your injury; an X-ray or an MRI of the area may be required.
LCL Tear and Sprain Treatment Options
In the instance of a minor injury, treatment may include:
- Rest, accompanied with pain relievers
- Splinting or bracing
- Applying ice and elevating the injury
- Depending on the severity, a regimen of physical therapy or rehabilitation may be beneficial
In more severe cases of an LCL injury, surgery may be required.
Contact Gustavel Orthopedics in Boise, Idaho
With thousands of patient cases since 2002, we are confident in our ability to serve you. We pride ourselves in patient care & independence in health care choice. Please feel free to contact us if you think you are experiencing a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) tear or sprain.