LCL Injury Treatment in Dallas & Frisco, TX

Lateral Collateral Ligament Sprain and Injury Treatment

At SPORT Orthopedics and Physical Therapy, our Dallas physical therapists and orthopedic specialists treat a wide variety of knee injuries, including ACL tears, patellar fractures, hyperextended knee, and much more. Our Dallas orthopedic specialists are here for you if you suffered an LCL injury. Please call 469-200-2832 or fill out our online intake form today to schedule an appointment with us.

Anatomy of the Knee Joint

As one of the human body’s largest and most complex joints, the knee joint is vital for our everyday activities. It joins the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). A smaller bone, the fibula, runs alongside the tibia. The other bone that completes the knee joint is the patella, or the kneecap.

The tissues that connect the muscles of the legs to the knee bones are called tendons. Ligaments join the knee bones together and stabilize the knee. Below, we list the four ligaments located in the knees.

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): This ligament keeps the femur from moving backward on the tibia, and keeps the tibia from moving forward.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): This ligament keeps the femur from moving forward on the tibia, and keeps the tibia from moving backward.
  • Medial and lateral collateral ligaments (MCL and LCL): These prevent the femur from moving side to side. 

Two C-shaped cartilage pieces between the tibia and femur act as shock-absorbing materials. These are called the medial and lateral menisci. Tiny fluid-filled sacs called bursae help keep the knee lubricated and moving smoothly.

knee joint anatomy

What Is an LCL Injury?

A sprain or tear of the lateral collateral ligament is known as an LCL injury. On the outside of your knee, the LCL is a belt of tissue. It joins your femur to the lower leg bone and prevents your knee from bending outward.

Activities that require bending, twisting, or a sudden change of direction might injure your LCL. When the inside of the knee is struck in football or soccer, for example, the LCL might be harmed. This sort of injury can also happen while skiing or participating in other activities that include a lot of stop-and-go motions, leaping, or weaving.

What Causes an LCL Injury?

There are three common causes for these types of knee injuries, which we list below.

  • Direct hit to the inside portion of the knee: The power of the impact might strain or rupture the ligament that runs along the outside border of the knee. It’s frequent among athletes who compete in sports where players collide with one another, such as football or hockey.
  • Quick changes in direction or pivots on one foot: Sports that have a fast pace, like soccer or basketball, often see this cause of injury. When athletes suddenly twist or stop, they could damage their LCL.
  • Poor or awkward landing angles from a jump: When players land at an awkward angle, it could put a significant amount of strain on the knee’s ligaments. This sometimes happens in basketball and volleyball.

How to Prevent an LCL Injury

There is an even greater risk of re-injury for those who have a previous LCL injury. To prevent the same injury from happening again, there are several precautions you can take. We list these below.

  • Wear a well-fitted knee brace while engaging in athletic activities. Braces support the knee’s ligaments and reduce the amount of sideways movement.
  • Be sure to use the proper techniques while playing sports and engaging in other physical activities. If you get into the habit of good knee positioning early on, you’re less likely to injure your LCL in the future. This is especially important if you know you’ll be jumping, pivoting, and lifting.
  • Always stretch and warm up your body before playing a game or engaging in rigorous physical activity. Warming up helps strengthen the legs and knees, and improve overall flexibility. This reduces your risk of injury.

Symptoms of an LCL Injury

The most common symptoms of an LCL injury are very similar to other types of knee injuries, including an ACL tear, PCL injury, and MCL injury. Below, we list the symptoms to watch out for.

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Unstable knee feelings, as if the knee might buckle or give out

You could notice that the feeling of being unsteady on your feet persists as you start walking again. It’s a good idea to notify your healthcare physician about it, even if it’s not frequent. Such instability might be frightening since you may be afraid of harming yourself again.

Diagnosis of an LCL Injury

A sports medicine specialist or another health care expert is usually the one to identify lateral collateral ligament knee problems. You should expect to be asked questions, have a physical examination, and conduct medical imaging on the injured knee.

Imaging Tests

Most LCL tears are diagnosed without the use of medical imaging tests. However, sometimes doctors order these tests to rule out other possibilities and determine the severity of the knee injury. 

  • X-ray: An x-ray can reveal bones and assist in evaluating whether or not there is a fracture. Irregularities might also aid a diagnosis in the alignment of the bones.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI scan of the soft tissue around the knee joint, including the ligaments, offers a detailed view. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can confirm a diagnosis and determine the degree of an LCL tear.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasounds use high frequency sound waves to create a clear picture of the tissues in the knee. Sometimes, an MRI is not recommended for certain patients. This is usually where ultrasound comes in handy.

Patient History and Physical Examination

Examinations generally begin with a patient interview with your orthopedic specialist. They will ask questions such as the following.

  • How and when did the injury occur?
  • Where do you feel pain?
  • Did you hear or feel a popping sensation at the time of the injury?
  • Have you injured the affected knee in the past?
  • Do you feel your knee locking, buckling, or catching when you move it?
  • Does your knee feel unstable or weak when bearing weight on it?

After the interview, your doctor will likely perform a physical examination of the knee to confirm their diagnosis. Your doctor will undertake specialized evaluations to evaluate LCL tears during a physical exam. In conjunction with these tests, a doctor will look for symptoms of damage around the knee, such as swelling, bruising, and gashes.

Varus Stress Test

varus stress test

Your doctor will have you lie down on an examination table to begin the test. 

  • The examiner places one hand on the ankle of the affected leg, and the other underneath the affected knee for support.
  • They move the leg from side to side from the ankle.
  • They then bend the affected leg to about a 30-degree angle before repeating the previous step.

For comparison, this test can be done on the unaffected limb. If the knee joint moves sideways towards the body a lot, the LCL has likely been damaged. Further tests may be conducted to see whether any other tissues in the knee have been affected. Doctors frequently advise delaying a physical exam until the initial knee swelling has subsided, as swelling and discomfort can compromise testing accuracy.

LCL Injury Treatment in Dallas, TX

Fortunately, it is possible to treat most LCL injuries at home. However, this depends on the grade of the tear. There are three grades listed in the LCL injury grading system, which we outline below.

  • Grade 1: This is usually mild stretching of the knee ligament. These injuries generally only require home care and crutches for a brief period. When your doctor decides it’s appropriate for you to put weight on your leg, you may need to wear a hinged brace on your knee. After 3 to 4 weeks, many patients can resume normal activities. 
  • Grade 2: This is either a severely stretched LCL or a partially torn one. An injured ligament with a partial tear sometimes requires crutches or a hinged knee brace to keep the knee stable. Many people return to an average activity level after 8 to 12 weeks.
  • Grade 3: These LCL injuries are more severe, sometimes involving a completely torn ligament. A complete tear of the LCL often requires a knee brace for several months. Additionally, patients should limit how much weight they put on the injured leg. Some severe collateral ligament injuries require surgery to correct, much like other ligament injuries. After a severe tear, many patients return to their normal activities after around 8 to 12 weeks.

Nonsurgical Treatment

knee brace for lcl injury

For a mild LCL tear, many people opt for at-home nonsurgical treatments. Immediately after you suffer the injury, we recommend the RICE method.

  • Rest: Activities that induce knee discomfort, such as long-distance running or walking, should be postponed until the pain and swelling subside. It’s best to stay away from the activity that caused the injury until you’ve fully recovered.
  • Ice: Ice packs can be applied to the affected region to relieve discomfort and swelling. Ice packs can be used for 10 to 20 minutes at a time multiple times throughout the day.
  • Compression: Wearing an elastic bandage across the injured knee might help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Swelling can be reduced by elevating the knee and supporting it above the waist.

Other nonsurgical treatment options include the following.

  • Non-steroidal anti inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs): These include medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen, which help to both reduce pain and swelling and also improve mobility.
  • Knee brace: This keeps the knee joint stable and restricts sideways movement. When someone returns to their regular activities, they could switch to a more functional sports knee brace.
  • Physical therapy: We highly recommend physical therapy, as it helps restore the knee’s range of motion and increases its strength.

Platelet Rich Plasma Treatment

Certain people with LCL tears, particularly high level athletes who want to compete again, may benefit from regenerative therapy, such as platelet rich plasma treatment. Although PRP can be injected or administered directly during surgery, there is debate about whether these therapies enhance outcomes.

Surgical Treatment

lcl reconstruction surgery

Unfortunately, the lateral collateral ligament often does not heal as well as other collateral ligament injuries, such as those to the medial collateral ligament. Medial collateral ligament tears often heal independently, while surgery is usually recommended for a severe lateral collateral ligament injury.

LCL Repair Surgery

On two types of LCL rips, repair surgery is most commonly performed. The first is when the ligament is torn where it connects to the femur or tibia. The surgeon will use strong sutures, screws, or staples to restore damaged ligament to the bone. Because the LCL is positioned outside the knee joint and cannot be seen with an arthroscope, it is usually repaired with an open knee procedure.

When the LCL is ripped in the center, the other type of repair surgery is used. The surgeon will stitch the torn ends back together using extremely durable surgical thread in these circumstances. This operation is only recommended if the rip is still fresh.

LCL Reconstruction Surgery

A surgeon will propose reconstruction surgery if a lateral collateral ligament cannot be healed. The injured LCL tissue is removed and replaced with a tendon transplant during LCL restoration. The tendon graft is usually obtained from another part of the knee, such as the hamstring tendon, or a cadaver, a human tissue source.

LCL Injury Recovery

The length of time it takes to recover from LCL surgery depends on the degree of the rupture and whether or not there were any additional knee issues. Although some patients require an overnight stay, most people may leave the hospital a few hours following surgery. Following discharge from the hospital, recovery usually entails the following.

  • Using crutches for up to 6 weeks
  • Applying a cold pack to the area to reduce swelling
  • Pain medications

Patients can usually start physical therapy programs as soon as they are no longer using crutches and can bear weight independently. This usually takes around 4 to 6 weeks. Physical therapy is a great help to improve range of motion and strength.

Full recovery might take up to 6 months depending on the type of exercise a person intends to resume, especially for those who engage in strenuous activity. Some patients may want to reduce their high-impact activities following surgical repair or restoration.

Frequently Asked Questions

It's typical to have discomfort and edema after injuring your LCL. The following are also common side effects. Along the outside border of your knee, you may experience stiffness, soreness, or tenderness. When you're walking or standing, your knee may feel like it's about to give up. When you walk, your knee may stick in place or seize instead of flowing freely. It's possible that you don't have your full range of motion. If the rip is serious, your foot may become numb or weak, and you may experience knee discomfort. Bruising on or around the knee is possible.

You'll need crutches or a knee brace for a time. Your doctor will advise you on how long you should wait before placing weight on your knee. After your LCL tear heals, you'll be able to walk properly again.

You should be able to begin activities to restore strength and range of motion to your knee after the pain and swelling have subsided. If you're still uncomfortable after completing these exercises, move carefully to avoid aggravating yourself further. Depending on the severity of your injury, it might take up to eight weeks to fully heal.

Injuries in the lateral collateral ligaments do not mend as well as tears in the medial collateral ligaments. A lateral collateral ligament injury of grade 3 may necessitate surgery. Rest, wearing a brace, using pain medications like ibuprofen, and physical therapy may be all that is necessary in certain circumstances.

Your LCL tear may mend on its own with time and at-home therapies. Your healthcare practitioner, on the other hand, can assess the degree of your injuries and recommend the best treatment option. You risk additional harm if you resume your activities without first consulting your healthcare physician.

Contact SPORT Orthopedics and Physical Therapy Today

LCL tears can be incredibly painful, and sometimes don’t heal as well on their own as other ligaments. In these cases, working with an experienced orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist can be invaluable for your recovery. At SPORT, we take pride in helping our patients get back on their feet and back in the game. To schedule your appointment with one of our specialists, please call 469-200-2832 or fill out our online intake form.