Collateral ligament injuries are stretches or tears to the ligaments at the sides of the knee that connect the bones together and keep the joint stable.
Damage may occur to the medial ligament (MCL) at the inner knee or the lateral ligament (LCL) at the outside of the knee. Either type of injury can cause stiffness, swelling, pain and instability.
MCL stretches and tears are more common than LCL injuries, and many are seen in combination with tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at the center of the knee.
Causes of Collateral Ligament Injuries
These injuries occur when excessive pressure or stress is placed on the knee, forcing it sideways. MCL damage often is the result of a blow to the outside of the knee during sports activities.
The ligament may also become damaged from a fall on ice, as slipping causes the foot to move outward while the body weight comes down. Pivoting and changing directions quickly can also stretch or tear the MCL.
The LCL is injured when the knee is forced to bend inward, usually during a direct impact to the knee joint. In most cases of stretches or tears to this ligament, the injury occurs during contact sports.
Collateral Ligament Injury Diagnosis
Diagnosing collateral ligament injuries begins with the doctor taking a medical history to determine the location and scope of pain and other symptoms.
The doctor will perform a physical examination of the knee, during which he or she will test for looseness of the ligament. Regular X-rays may also be ordered to rule out bone damage.
If multiple injuries may have occurred to the knee, an MRI may be recommended to fully assess your condition.
Treatments for Collateral Ligament Injuries
The initial treatment for an MCL or LCL injury is the R.I.C.E. technique — rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to reduce pain and swelling, and the physician may recommend that you use crutches while walking to keep weight off the affected knee.
In some cases, a hinged brace may be worn to protect against side-to-side motion of the joint. Physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises may also be advised.
These injuries rarely require surgery, but your physician may consider this option if injury to the ligament is severe or if other structures in the knee are damaged.
Extreme knee pain, especially with rapid onset, requires immediate medical attention to prevent further damage. Contact our office as soon as possible if you suspect any type of collateral ligament injury to the knee.