Collateral Ligament Injuries

Ligaments are strong fibrous bands that help to connect two bones together at a joint.  There are four primary ligaments in your knee, which act like strong ropes to hold the bones together and keep your knee stable by preventing any unwanted movement.

The collateral ligaments are located on either side of your knee.  The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) is on the inside and the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) is on the outside.  These ligaments control against any excessive sideways motion at the knee. Injured ligaments are termed “sprains” and are graded as follows:

Grade 1

The ligament has been slightly overstretched, with minimal damage.  There is likely to be a short period of pain, swelling and stiffness, with full recovery within 6 weeks.

Grade 2

The ligament has been significantly overstretched to the point where it has become loose.  This is also known as a partial tear.  Pain, swelling and stiffness may last a lot longer, and full recovery may take 12-24 weeks.

Grade 3

The ligament has torn into two pieces and is no longer able to support the joint.  This is also known as a complete rupture.  These injuries can still be managed with a course of specific physiotherapy, with return to activity at 6 months.  However, if the knee remains unstable and gives way, referral to an Orthopaedic Surgeon may be required to reconstruct the ligament.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

Injuries to the MCL can happen during any weight bearing activity, at any age.  They occur when the knee is forced inwards, whilst you are standing on that leg.  This overstretches the MCL, which is located on the inside of your knee.  Injury to this ligament may occur with an ACL injury.

Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL)

Injuries to the LCL occur when the knee is forced outwards, whilst you are standing on that leg.  This overstretches the LCL, which is located on the outside of your knee.  Injury to the LCL is less common than injury to the MCL because your other leg usually protects against any force acting on the inside of your knee.

The following symptoms may accompany a knee ligament injury:

  • A popping sound at the time of injury
  • Swelling of your knee, which may be accompanied by some bruising
  • Pain in your knee
  • Not being able to use your knee normally
  • A feeling that your knee is unstable, or gives way if you try to stand on it

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should seek to have your knee assessed as soon as possible.  If you have sustained a small tear to a ligament, these are usually best managed by a course of physiotherapy.  This may include:

  • Activity modification – to reduce the amount of strain on the knee whilst the ligament is recovering
  • Manual therapy – to maintain flexibility and desensitise any painful, shortened structures as a result of the injury
  • Specific Exercise – to gradually re-strengthen the knee, whilst minimising aggravation
  • Taping/Strapping – to provide pain relief and support to the knee during recovery.
  • Bracing – is an effective way of managing a complete ligament rupture without needing an operation.  See our Ossur Knee Braces page.

If you have been diagnosed with a complete rupture, we may need to refer you to your GP or a Knee Consultant for further investigation, such as an MRI scan, to confirm our findings.  We are fortunate to have good links with all local GP practices and Orthopaedic Consultants.

If you would like additional information then please contact us.