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Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Injury20th August 2018
The LCL is a pair of ligaments that run the length of the knee - one runs down the inner side of the leg while the other on the outer side. An LCL injury is an uncommon form of knee damage but can happen if trauma is experienced to the knee or to the inside of the thigh or leg. Contact sports, such as football and rugby, are likely causes of LCL injuries as players can experience trauma from a kick to the knee or leg.
Measuring an LCL Injury
There are three grades of injury:
- Grade 1 - The ligament has been stretched but not as far to cause it to become loose.
- Grade 2 - The ligament has partly ruptured.
- Grade 3 - The ligament has completely torn causing instability.
Options available for treatment will depend on the severity of the injury as well as your age and occupation.
There are three grades of LCL injury
Symptoms of an LCL Injury
Symptoms will vary depending on the degree of your injury. For mild damage, the knee will be tender when touched, particularly on the outer side, and swollen. You may also have trouble putting your weight on that side of the leg.
For a second degree LCL injury, symptoms are similar to mild injuries but suffered with more intensity. The knee may also be noticeably loose when moved by hand.
If the ligament has torn, you will experience significant tenderness and pain on the inside of your knee. There will be swelling and instability in the joint.
The options available to you for treating an LCL injury depend on the severity of the damage to the knee. Some people will follow the RICE routine before seeking medical assistance. The RICE method is:
- Rest - Allowing the body to heal itself can often work miracles, but it’s important that you make sure to do less than usual to feel the full effect. If you’re struggling to put weight on your knee, a walking stick or Nordic pole can help.
- Ice - Using ice packs or ice wrapped in a towel periodically can reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Compression - Using bandages or a brace that protects and compresses can limit the swelling. There are many options of braces available that can fit into different lifestyles.
- Elevation - Swelling can also be reduced by keeping your knee raised above the level of your heart.
Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
Pain relief medication can help to reduce the amount of pain during the night when you have less control over knee movement. As well as tablets, there are a number of creams and gels available that are specifically designed for knee injuries. If you’re unsure of which medication will be suitable for your injury, your pharmacist will be able to help.
If you fear you have suffered a severe LCL injury, it is important that you seek professional help to ensure you are given the relevant treatment. Most doctors can diagnose an LCL injury just by examination; however, if pain and swelling make it difficult to provide a full examination, or there is other damage to the knee, such as to the anterior cruciate ligament, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or X-ray may be carried out instead.
The surgical solution of an LCL injury is only really necessary when there has been a rupture. In this case, there are two options - if the ligament has come away from the bone, surgery will be carried out to reattach it, but if the ligament has torn in two, the two ends will have to be stitched back together. In certain situations, a rupture may be irreparable. This is solved by taking some tendon from another part of your body or using donor tissue to replace it.
These procedures are usually carried out by keyhole surgery (arthroscopy), however, open knee surgery may be necessary for more complex scenarios.
How long will it take to recover?
Your recovery time will be determined by the severity of your injury and whether or not surgery was a requirement. The rehabilitation period can take between one and eight weeks but may be prolonged for more serious cases.
Following the advice of professionals and making use of supportive equipment, such as braces, splints and walking aids, will all help with your recovery, making sure you are back on your feet as expected.