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Managing LCL Sprains

Managing LCL Sprains
Managing LCL Sprains

Symptoms Of An LCL Sprain

A sprain to the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) may vary from being very mild to a complete rupture. LCL sprains are categorized into Grade 1, Grade 2 or Grade 3 depending on the extent of the injury with the Grade 3 injury being the complete rupture of the ligament. Severity and symptoms depend on the degree of stretching or tearing of the ligament. If the ligament is only mildly sprained there may only be very mild symptoms. With partial tears or complete tears symptoms may include:

  • Pain on the outside of the knee.
  • Swelling.
  • Stiffness of the knee.
  • Feelings of instability (like the knee is going to give out).

Diagnosing An LCL injury

Some simple questioning regarding the history of the event coupled with physical examination of the knee and your physiotherapist should be able to make the diagnosis and grade the LCL injury without the need for investigations. Sometimes an MRI may be useful to aid the diagnosis and assess the status of other surrounding structures as it isn’t uncommon for combination injuries involving more than just a LCL injury in isolation.

LCL Injury Treatment And Recovery

The management and healing time frames of LCL sprains vary depending on the severity of the injury and any involvement of injury to surrounding structures.
Some simple guidelines regarding return to play following a LCL injury are that for a:

  • Grade I sprain athletes will usually heal within a few weeks and people may return to play within 10-21 days.
  • Grade II sprain it will take around 6 weeks and return to play within 6-12 weeks.
  • Grade III sprain will take considerable longer and any return to play isn’t until around 3 months or longer post injury.

The above time frames however are simply guidelines as the presence of any combination injury to surrounding structures can complicate the rehabilitation. Individuals heal at different rates, the exact severity within the grade can vary and the demands of the individual sports may vary too. All this means some athletes can return to play sooner than others with limited risk to compromising their healing.
Physiotherapy during the rehabilitation period may consist of soft tissue techniques to the ligaments or surrounding tissues. Home, in clinic or in gym exercises which may include mobility work, strengthening, stability and balance exercises. With more significant ligament injuries, bracing and crutches may be necessary early on to protect the ligament whilst it is recovering. At the end stages of the rehabilitation with return to training and play again bracing or taping options may be considered to help support the ligament and prevent re-injury.

With Grade 3 injures to the LCL or combination injuries surgery is sometimes considered necessary to achieve the most desirable outcome. In this situation a ligament repair or reconstruction being carried out.

Prevention Of LCL Injuries

It’s difficult to totally prevent any LCL injuries because they’re most often a result of an unforeseen circumstance or accident. However, preventing such a recurrence is obviously a priority for anyone having suffered a lateral collateral ligament sprain. A comprehensive knee strengthening, balance and sports specific agility and technique program, coupled with avoiding any premature return to high-risk activities is the best way to reduce any likelihood of repeat injury.
This and the possible addition of prophylaxis taping or bracing for the lateral collateral ligament and you have the recipe for a safe return to play.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic provides this information as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Managing LCL Sprains should consult his or her general practitioner, sports medicine specialist, orthopedic surgeon, physiotherapist or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.


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