Rarely do collateral ligament injuries require surgery.

Collateral Ligament Injuries

There are four essential ligaments in your knee that hold the bones together and the two collateral ligaments manage the side motion reinforcing it against unnatural motion. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is located on the inside of the knee joint and is injured more than the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) which is located on the outside. This is in part due to the more complicated structure of the outside of the knee. A ligament injury is considered a “sprain” and graded on a scale of severity. Grade 1 is considered mild because the ligament has been stretched but continues to support the joint. Grade 2 is a partial tear and the ligament is loose. Grade 3 is an entire tear where the ligament is severed, leaving the knee joint unstable.

Athletes who engage in direct contact sports are more likely to experience this type of injury because it is usually caused by a direct blow or force that pushes the knee to the side.

Symptoms include swelling at the injury site, knee instability, and pain on the sides of your knee. Most ligament injuries can be diagnosed with a physical exam with your doctor. X-rays and an MRI (magnetic resonance image) can aid in confirming the diagnosis.

The RICE method of rest, ice, compression and elevation will aid in the healing process. Bracing your knee and using crutches to keep weight off of the injury may also be recommended. Physical therapy can help restore function and strength as well.

Rarely do collateral ligament injuries require surgery. Surgery might be suggested if it tears in a way that cannot heal.

Collateral Ligament Injuries
Complete tears of the MCL (left) and LCL (right).
Image courtesy of AAOS