Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Injury: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Exercises
What is the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) of the Knee?
A ligament is connective tissue that connects bone to bone across a joint to help stabilize that area of the joint against excessive forces. There are four ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL), Medial Collateral Ligament, and the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL). The LCL is a ligament on the lateral (meaning outside), portion of the knee. It travels from the lower end of the outside of the femur (the thigh bone) to the upper portion of the fibula (outside lower leg bone). Its main purpose is to stabilize the knee when any force is put through it from the medial (inside) to lateral (outside).
What is an LCL Injury (Sprain or Tear) and How Common is it?
The LCL is less commonly injured compared to the other ligaments of the knee. It is rare to have an isolated LCL sprain or injury, it is usually accompanied by damage to other ligaments and soft tissues of the knee. The most common form of LCL injury is an LCL sprain. Depending on the severity of the injury, there are 3 grades of ligament sprains which are described below:
Grade 1 (Mild)
- A stretch in the ligament causing only microscopic tearing
- Light bleeding and swelling
- Mild to moderate pain
- Range of motion is normal – minimally decreased
Grade 2 (Moderate)
- Partial tearing or rupture of the ligament
- Moderate swelling and bleeding
- More severe pain
- Range of motion is moderately to severe decreased
Grade 3 (Severe)
- Complete tear of the ligament
- Extensive bleeding and swelling
- Severe pain
- Range of motion is severely decreased
- Could feel like complete dislocation
What are the Signs and Symptoms of an LCL Injury?
Signs and symptoms of LCL injury vary depending on the grade of sprain. They can include:
- Decreased range of motion
- Instability (especially this feeling the outside of the knee is going to give way)
- Hearing or feeling a “popping” or “snapping” when injury occurred
- Injury that occurred when force contacted the inside of you knee and bent it outward in an unnatural way
How Can I Treat my LCL Injury at Home?
The best precautions to take after a suspected LCL injury is to apply the RICE principle until you are able to get it checked by a professional
- Try to not to put any stress on the injured area to protect it from further injury, a knee brace maybe helpful at this stage.
- Always be sure to use the ratio 10:10 minutes
- Ice ON for 10 min., OFF for 10 min. — repeat.
- Apply ice with some pressure or wear a compression sleeve, this helps to control swelling and make you more aware of your knee in space.
- To promote circulation of the blood back to the heart, this will help to clear chemical byproducts as your injured tissue is broken down by the body.
What are the Best Exercises to Help with LCL Injuries?
Before beginning any exercises, it is important to go see a health care profession to be sure of the anatomy harmed and the extent of the injury. A full history, physical and plan of management will be conducted by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, RMT, or Sport Medicine Doctor.
After being assessed for severity of injury the first step is to begin with pain free ranges of motion exercises if your range of motion is limited. Next will be strengthening and stretching the area in order to prevent the injury from occurring again. A few examples are shown below:
Exercise 1: Range of Motion Exercises:
- Lie on your stomach with both legs straight
- Bend one knee up as far as you can and then straighten out so it is straight again
- Repeat 10-20 x in pain free range
Exercise 2: Quadricep Stretch:
- Bring foot up toward buttock with the same side hand
- Pushing hips forward and leg back you should feel a stretch through the front of your thigh
- Hold for at least 30 seconds repeat 2-3 x
Exercise 3: Strength:
- Take a resistance band and put it on your lower leg
- Your feet should be hip width apart, squat down like you are going to sit in a chair
- Step out with one leg wider then hip width, and follow afterward with the other leg, returning to hip width
- Repeat 10x in each direction and perform 3 sets a day
*This exercise should be pain free
What Should be Avoided if I have an LCL Injury?
- Agility training or sports including: lateral movements, cutting, jumping, running on uneven surfaces
- Range of motion that cause the pain
- Anything that causes the pain to become more than a 4/10 on your perceived pain scale*
* perceived pain scale: on a scale of 0-10, 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experience and 0 being no pain at all.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from an LCL injury?
Recovery time of any injury is dependent on many different variables. Some of these variables we can control and others we cannot. Here are some examples in the chart below.
|Timeline of when rehabilitation was introduced.
The sooner = the better
It is always important to remain active
|Compliance with Plan of Management.
More compliant = faster healing
|Previous LCL injury|
A reasonable timeline for recovery of a lower grade sprain is 6-8 weeks and a higher-grade tear could take 3-6 months of rehabilitation until you have returned to agility activities.
Prevention of Re-Injuring the LCL
Following your plan of management provided by your health care provider will always help to speed up healing and prevent it from happening again. Being diligent with your strengthening exercises and listening to your body is important to keeping the entire knee joint strong and stable. Depending on the severity of the injury, some individuals might want to get a brace that can be used when partaking in activities.
- Merriam-webster.com. (2019). Medical Definition of LATERAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT. [online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/lateral%20collateral%20ligament [Accessed 28 Oct. 2019].
- Sportmedbc.com. (2019). Ligament Sprains | SportMedBC. [online] Available at: https://sportmedbc.com/article/ligament-sprains [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
Rebalance Sports Medicine is a multidisciplinary clinic in downtown Toronto offering physiotherapy, chiropractic, registered massage therapy, sports medicine, naturopathy, Pilates and more.