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Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury

Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury is an injury to the ligament on the outer side of the knee.

It can be a stretch, partial tear, or complete tear of the ligament.

Alternative Names

LCL injury; Knee injury - lateral collateral ligament (LCL)

Considerations

The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) goes from the top part of the fibula (the bone on the outside of the lower leg) to the outside part of the lower thigh bone.

The ligament helps keep the outer side of the knee joint stable.

Causes

The LCL is usually injured by pressure or an injury that pushes the knee joint from the inside, which results in stress on the outside part of the joint.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a tear in the lateral collateral ligament are:

  • Knee swelling
  • Locking or catching of the knee with movement
  • Pain or tenderness along the outside of the knee
  • Knee gives way, or feels like it is going to give way, when it is active or stressed in a certain way

First Aid

A lateral collateral ligament test may reveal looseness in the ligament. This involves bending the knee to 25 degrees and placing pressure on the inside surface of the knee.

Other tests may include:

Treatment includes:

  • Applying ice to the area
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Raising the knee above heart level

You should limit physical activity until the pain and swelling go away. The health care provider may put you on crutches and in a brace to protect the ligament. You may also be told not to put any weight on your knee when you walk.

After a period of keeping the knee still, you should do exercises to strengthen and stretch the knee. Physical therapy may help you regain knee and leg strength.

It is rare that the LCL is the only ligament injured. If it is a partial tear, it can be treated without surgery by using only immobilization and rest.

More commonly, the LCL is injured with other ligament injuries due to a knee dislocation. These are usually significant injuries, and you should seek medical help immediately. When injuries to other ligaments also occur, surgery is needed to prevent future instability of the knee.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You injure your knee and have symptoms of LCL injury (injury to the LCL is often a serious knee injury, which can include many knee ligaments and injuries to the nerves and blood vessels)
  • You are being treated for an LCL injury and you notice increased instability in your knee, pain or swelling return after they subsided, or your injury does not go away with time
  • You re-injure your knee

Prevention

Use proper technique when exercising or playing sports. Many cases may not be preventable.

References

De Carlo M, Armstrong B. Rehabilitation of the knee following sports injury. Clin Sports Med. 2010;29:81-106.

Schorfhaar AJ, Mair JJ, Fetzer GB, Wolters BW, LaPrade RF. Knee: Lateral and postereolateral injuries of the knee. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 23;sect F.

Silverstein JA, Moeller JL, Hutchinson MR. Common issues in orthopedics. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 30.

Updated: 6/29/2012

C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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