What Is An LCL Injury?
The LCL, or lateral collateral ligament, is the ligament that connects the femur to the fibula. It is located along the outside of the knee joint and plays a huge part in keeping the knee stable by preventing lateral opening of the knee joint. An injury to the LCL involves a tear or strain to this important ligament. This injury is typically caused by a blow to the inner knee and is common with high-impact sports like football or hockey.
What Are The Signs Of An LCL Injury?
If you hit your knee hard and are not sure if you injured your LCL, there are some common signs of an LCL injury you should be aware of. How badly you injured your LCL will determine what symptoms you will experience. While symptoms like numbness and swelling often indicate a more serious injury, a minor injury might not display itself with any of these common LCL injury signs. If you think you might have injured your LCL, these are the signs you should look out for:
- Instability in your knee or feeling like your knee will go out
- Numbness in your knee or foot
- Grinding, catching or popping when you try to move your knee or stand
- Pain or tenderness on the outside of your knee
- Visible swelling and bruising on your knee
How Do You Diagnose An LCL injury?
If your knee is exhibiting any of these symptoms or you suspect you might have an LCL injury, your doctor will most likely do some tests to confirm that it is actually your LCL that is injured. Depending on the severity of your pain and the amount of swelling in your leg, your doctor may have you elevate your leg and apply ice to reduce swelling and pain to levels that won't interfere with test results. Once your leg is ready, the doctor will press lightly on your outer knee in both straight and bent positions. You may also undergo an X-Ray, MRI or other imaging test. Since the MRI is 90-percent effective at determining the severity of an LCL injury if that is indeed the case, your doctor will likely use an MRI if a pressure test isn’t giving him a clear diagnosis.
How Do You Treat An LCL Injury?
If you go to the doctor and you find out that you do have an LCL injury, you’re likely wondering what kind of treatment you will get for your injured LCL and how long the healing process will take. The severity of your injury determines how much treatment you will need and how long it will take for you to be fully healed and return to your activities.
As soon as the injury occurs, you should apply ice to the area as soon as possible and take some anti-inflammatory medicine to help with pain and swelling. No matter how severe the injury, the common RICE method will be an essential routine for speeding up the healing process.
Another way to say this would be "self-care". Once an injury occurs, even a minor one, some serious self-care needs to take place. You need to immediately stop, especially any type of exercise.
This is time to rest your body so your injury has a chance to begin healing. This is the homemade medicine, and it is needed if you ever hope to recover and get back to what you love to do.
Rest is essential, even if it's hard for you. Prioritize breaks, prioritize rest. You would be amazed at what good sleep and downtime can do for an injury and the overall body.
Next up is ice. It can seem so simple, but it really does help with the swelling and take away a lot of the pain. Compression is the next home remedy that has proven itself time and time again. Lastly, turn on the TV and elevate it.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compress and elevate. Resting is vital for allowing your body to heal. If you do not rest your knee it will only get worse. When applying ice, make sure that you don’t apply it directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or ice pack in a towel or some other sort of barrier to avoid irritation. Hold it against the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes at least three times a day until all the swelling is gone.
As soon as you can, compress the injury with an elastic bandage. With a minor injury, you should only need to compress the area for two to three days. Make sure the bandage isn’t too tight and causing even more swelling around the bandage. Lastly, keep your injury elevated. As a good rule of thumb, you should keep your leg above the level of your heart. A pillow under your leg is an easy way to keep your knee elevated.
If your injury is relatively minor and your LCL is the only part of your knee that is injured, your doctor will likely prescribe you some pain medicine and will either use a splint, brace or crutches to keep you from further injuring your knee. If your doctor does not prescribe you a brace but you would like one for extra support while you heal, there are several different types of knee braces on the market that are effective at supporting you and protecting you from further injury. These are often designed to give support while still giving you some flexibility to continue playing sports while you heal from a minor injury. For more serious injuries, you will likely need one prescribed from the doctor.
If you have experienced severe injury to your knee, chances are you injured more than just your LCL. Most cases of LCL injury can be healed using the methods already discussed, but some cases may require physical therapy and even surgery. Unless you experience an injury in your meniscus, surgery is very unlikely. Physical therapy will help your LCL recover and regain normal motion. You can expect the physical therapist to assign you a routine full of stretches and exercises designed to help you build back your muscle and increase your range of motion.
Physical Therapy Routine
Even if your injury wasn’t severe enough to warrant physical therapy, the following exercises and stretches will help you gain all strength and mobility back in your knee after you’ve experienced some healing and the swelling has gone down:
- Ball wall squats: With a ball between your back and a wall, go into a squat position and hold for several reps.
- Hip abduction: Sit on the floor, place a pillow between your bent knees and squeeze using your thighs.
- Heel dig: In a seated position, bend your injured knee and press your heel into the floor to work out your hamstrings.
- Lateral step-ups: Stand sideways on a set of stairs, and make sure your injured leg is on the top step. Lift yourself up and down with your injured leg.
What Is The Prognosis Of An LCL Injury?
A minor, grade-one tear to your LCL will take up to a week and a half to completely heal. A more severe, grade-two tear will take two to four weeks to heal, and a complete, grade-three ligament tear will take as long as eight weeks to heal. If there was damage to other parts of your knee as well, you can expect an even longer recovery time.
With most LCL injuries, your ligament will heal pretty easily with minor to no effect on your future life. However, you should always be cautious since your LCL is more likely to be injured in the future. Some soreness and swelling can occur during heavy activity even after you’ve healed, so you should be aware of your limits and use RICE when necessary. Obviously, the more severe the injury, the more your LCL will affect you in your day-to-day life.
What Can You Do To Prevent An LCL Injury?
Before you participate in any type of physical activity, you should stretch out your whole body to help prevent injuries like an LCL injury. Continue to exercise your legs to help strengthen your muscles and stabilize your knee. Make sure that you maintain perfect form the entire time you exercise, and be aware of your limits.
Since most LCL injuries happen during high-impact or fast-paced sports, be cautious while you play. Be aware of how your body feels while you’re playing, and pay attention to your surroundings so you can avoid a strike to your knee before it happens. If an accident does happen and you think you might have hurt your LCL, ice and elevate the area immediately. Whatever you do, do not keep playing on a hurt LCL. Get to the doctor or emergency room as fast as you can to prevent a small injury from becoming a worse one.
If you’ve already injured your LCL once before and you need to prevent another injury, be extra cautious when playing sports or engaging in physical activities. It is a good idea to buy a brace that will support and protect your knee while you play since you will be much more susceptible to injuring your LCL than you were in the past. Pay attention to your body at all times, even if you’re just climbing some stairs or standing for long periods of time. If you feel your LCL start to hurt or can feel any strain in your knee, then just stop and rest.
It’s much easier to prevent an LCL injury than it is to treat it. No matter what you do, be cautious of your surroundings and be especially careful while playing sports. Despite your best efforts, an injury can still very well occur, but just remain calm and rest assured that your LCL will heal and that you will be able to resume normal activity with treatment.