Your LCL (lateral collateral ligament) is a vital band of tissue on the outside of your knee. Athletes are more likely to tear it, causing a lot of pain and other symptoms. LCL tears usually heal after three to 12 weeks, depending on severity. You have to take care of yourself, though. Use crutches, ice your knee and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
A lateral collateral ligament (LCL) tear is a knee injury that causes pain, swelling and bruising. Your LCL is a band of tissue located on the outside of your knee (the side that faces away from your body). This tissue connects your lower leg bones to your thigh bone. It stops your knee from bending outward abnormally.
Athletes in sports like football, soccer and skiing are at higher risk for LCL tears, which can prevent you from competing. However, with time, treatment and rehabilitation, you should be able to play some sports again.
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Three bones make up your knee joint:
Ligaments hold the bones together. There are two types:
Anyone who makes stop-and-go movements or does a lot of twisting or bending could also tear an LCL. For example, football players who get hit in the knee, basketball players who jump, and soccer players with quick direction changes are at a higher risk.
It’s unclear what percentage of individuals tear an LCL. However, your risk is higher if you have had a previous LCL tear. An LCL tear is rarely an isolated injury. You’re likely to have an ACL tear or other knee problem at the same time as an LCL tear.
LCL tears typically happen when you’re playing a sport that involves:
The riskiest sports for LCL tears include:
The symptoms of an LCL tear include:
You might find that the sensation of being unstable on your feet continues after you’re walking again. While not unusual, it’s a good idea to tell your healthcare provider about it. Such instability can feel a little scary since you might fear injuring yourself again.
When you see your healthcare provider (which you should do as soon can), they’ll ask you questions about your injury and look at your knee. They’ll check for the following:
Your healthcare provider might order tests, including:
Your healthcare provider will ask you several questions as they assess your knee injury. Questions might include:
Healthcare providers categorize knee injuries in three grades:
You might need surgery if your injury is severe. Typically, providers consider a knee injury to be severe if you tear the LCL and another part of your knee, including your:
You may also need to go to physiotherapy (physical therapy). Physiotherapy will help you:
Severe injuries require open surgery. Your surgeon will:
Your healthcare provider might give you the go-ahead to return to your sports activities once you can walk without limping. First, you’ll have to go through what’s called functional progression. You’ll start with simple, gentle exercises and stretches, then move to moderate ones and eventually return to your normal activities. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting a regimen of stretches and exercise.
Healing from an LCL tear can take time. It can be hard to be patient, but you can’t rush the process.
Yes, there are some things you can do at home to help your injured LCL heal:
Recovery time depends on the grade (severity) of your LCL tear.
With time and at-home treatments, your LCL tear might heal on its own. But, your healthcare provider can evaluate the severity of your injury to determine the best treatment plan. If you resume your activities without seeing your healthcare provider, you risk further injury.
Although you can’t prevent a knee injury like an LCL tear, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk:
Take care of your knees. It might feel time-consuming to do extra exercises and stretches, but it’s worth it to keep your knees healthy.
Like most injuries, LCL tears can come with complications. Report any of the following to your healthcare provider:
Yes, it’s possible to tear the same lateral collateral ligament again. In fact, you’re at a higher risk of an LCL tear if you’ve had one before. As a result, you might want to take extra precautions to reduce your risk, including stretching and wearing a knee brace.
For a while, you’ll have to use crutches or a knee brace. Your healthcare provider will tell you how long you need to wait before putting weight on your knee. You’ll be back to walking normally after your LCL tear heals.
Immediately go to your emergency department if you have symptoms of a blood clot in your lung (pulmonary embolism), such as:
You should also immediately see a healthcare provider if you have the symptoms of any type of blood clot, including:
Also, see a healthcare provider at your emergency department right away if you have the following symptoms:
Keep a careful eye on your symptoms. You might feel tempted to “wait and see” if the symptoms get better, but it’s better not to hesitate. Instead, inform your healthcare provider or go to the emergency department.
Consider asking the following questions when you see your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
LCL (lateral collateral ligament) tears can bench athletes for three to 12 weeks, or even longer. Although you may be anxious to return to play, it’s important to see your healthcare provider for a complete evaluation if you tear your LCL. With treatment, rest and rehabilitation, you’ll heal and reduce your risk of re-injury. Talk to your healthcare provider about additional ways to protect your knees.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/19/2021.
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