Answering Your FAQs About An LCL Tear

Christopher C. Dodson, MD February 2nd, 2015

If you have experienced direct trauma to the side of your knee, followed by chronic pain and stiffness, you may have injured your lateral collateral ligament, also called the LCL. This connective tissue on the outside of the knee connects the femur and fibula but, when injured, can cause moderate to severe pain. Some LCL injuries can be treated without surgery while others, like an LCL tear, may require reconstructive surgery. At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, our knee specialists offer expert treatment as well as answers to your questions about LCL tears. 

What is an LCL Tear?

A lateral collateral ligament or LCL tear is a common injury among professional and recreational athletes. When healthy and whole, this ligament connects the femur (thigh bone) to the fibula (the thin, outer lower leg bone) in order to provide support and stability to the knee. With the support of this and other ligaments, the knee has an amazing range of motion and significant control.  
However, an impact to the inside of the knee can compromise this strength and mobility. When such a blow occurs, the supporting LCL can be stretched beyond its own range, results in a tear. Lateral collateral ligament injuries may vary in their severity and method of treatment; however, if you suspect that you or a loved one has experienced an LCL tear, it is important to contact a doctor right away.  
What are the Symptoms?
An athlete may not know right away that he or she has experienced an LCL tear; however, it will mostly likely become obvious that some injury has occurred almost immediately. First and foremost, the athlete will experience pain at the moment of the injury which is usually a strong impact to the inside of the knee.  There can be an associated injury to the peroneal nerve which causes numbness and the inability to move the ankle and big toe.
After the initial injury, the knee and surround area may become stiff and may also experience swelling and tenderness. Chronic pain, either mild or severe, may follow the injury, as well as the sensation of instability in the knee. Other residual symptoms that may indicate an LCL injury include numbness in the foot of the injured leg and the feeling that the knee joint is blocking when moved. 
How is an LCL Injury Treated? 
The treatment of LCL injuries depends in large part upon their severity. For less severe injury to the lateral collateral ligament, treatment does not require surgery. Instead, a combination of rest, ice, and rehabilitation, as well as bracing can effectively treat the injury. This regimen is usually followed for four to six weeks, depending upon the instructions of the patient’s doctor or orthopaedist. After six to eight weeks, most athletes are allowed to return to their sports activity. 
However, in the more severe cases of LCL injuries and tears, when the knee is unstable, surgical repair or reconstruction may be required. If the ligament is torn from the upper or lower attachment, the repair may be made within a few weeks of the initial injury. However, if the injury is older than three weeks or involves a tear in the middle of the ligament, reconstructive surgery may be necessary. This procedure involves a tendon graft, either from a patient or a donor, through bone tunnels. 
After a surgical treatment, the knee will typically be braced for six to eight weeks. During this period of time, rehabilitation may be necessary to regain strength and range of motion. 
Rothman Orthopaedic Institute 
If you or someone you know has experienced an LCL tear or other similar injury, it is important to quickly get the best treatment available. If you live in the Southern New Jersey or Philadelphia area, Rothman Orthopaedic Institute is your best option for expert care from specialized surgeons. For more information about our doctors or services, contact us today. 

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