LCL Injuries and Surgery
In order to remain stable and functional, your knee relies on four major and powerful ligaments—the ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL. Although ACL injuries tend to be the most common and well-known, any of the major ligaments can be injured or torn.
On this page, we’ll be focusing on the LCL, or lateral collateral ligament, which is located along the outer side of the knee and connects the thigh bone (femur) to the calf bone (fibula). Notably, it’s the only one of the four major knee ligaments that connects to the much thinner fibula, rather than the thicker shinbone (tibia).
Partly because the LCL is more flexible than the other major knee ligaments, isolated LCL injuries are relatively rare. However, when they do occur, LCL injuries are relatively less likely to heal on their own (or heal more slowly) and are thus more likely to require a surgical repair.
Do I Have an LCL Injury?
Like other knee ligament injuries, LCL injuries often result in pain, swelling, stiffness, soreness, and instability in the knee joint. The more serious the injury, the more significant the symptoms. Because of the location of the LCL, this pain tends to be concentrated along the outer side of the knee.
Most frequently, this injury is the result of a blow against the inside of the knee (which causes the outer side to become overextended), or a sudden and violent twisting motion or fall.
It’s important to note that LCL injuries frequently do not occur on their own (i.e., they are not isolated). Quite often it will be just one of several different ligaments, tendons, or structures in the knee that are damaged by the injury.
Is Surgery Necessary for Me?
That’s a question we can only answer once you come in for an evaluation.
Minor LCL sprains and even some mild tears, when the knee is still mostly or entirely stable, can sometimes be treated conservatively. This may include tactics such as rest, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, and physical therapy.
However, as mentioned above, the LCL doesn’t always heal as quickly or successfully as other kinds of knee injuries—and the more time has passed since the tear, the more likely it is that we will ultimately need to use a more invasive surgical procedure to stabilize the knee.
This is why it’s so important to see us as soon as possible after any kind of knee injury. The earlier you seek care, the more options you’ll generally have for treatment. We will, of course, carefully walk you through all the pros and cons of each choice and thoroughly explain any recommendations we make.
Exploring LCL Surgery
Unfortunately, LCL surgery usually cannot be performed arthroscopically due to the position of the tendon, so an open procedure will typically be chosen. This may mean a slightly longer recovery time than some other types of knee surgeries, but the good news is that long-term results are still highly successful in the vast majority of cases.
There are a few surgical options that may be considered, depending on the location and severity of the tear.
- LCL repair is usually preferred whenever possible. If the tear is near one of the attachment points (to either the femur or fibula), it may be possible to reattach it. If the tear is more in the middle of the tendon, it is sometimes possible to sew it back together. This is more likely to succeed if the tear is mild to moderate and occurred recently.
- LCL reconstruction is the more likely option for an older or more severe tear that cannot be repaired or stabilized in any other fashion. In this procedure, the LCL is replaced with a graft.
And again, we will always carefully go over all your options with you and explain our recommended course of action. That way, you can make a confident decision about how you want to proceed with treatment.
Post-Operative Care for LCL Surgery
The length of post-operative care can vary significantly from person to person, depending on things like the type of procedure, extent of the injury, whether additional ligaments or structures needed to be repaired, and how well you follow post-surgical guidelines.
You can expect to be on crutches for a while; in some cases up to 6 weeks. The ligament will need time to heal.
Once you’re off crutches and bearing weight again, careful rehabilitation and gradual return to higher-impact activities will be necessary in order to restore full strength and power to the knee and reduce the risk of future injuries.
This process will not always be fast—full recovery can take half a year. However, it is crucial that you follow our instructions carefully and do not attempt to go beyond your rehab plan. We understand how passionate you are about your activities, and we wouldn’t ask you to hold back if we didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. We want you to be able to continue to enjoy your activities for many years to come!
Don’t wait to address a knee injury—even a seemingly mild one. Call Premier Podiatry & Orthopedics today at (916) 961-3434, or by clicking the “Contact Us!” button below!
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