A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bone to bone. The collateral ligaments are located on the outside of your knee joint. They help connect the bones of your upper and lower leg, inside your knee joint.
A collateral ligament injury occurs when the ligaments are stretched or torn. A partial tear occurs when only part of the ligament is torn. A complete tear occurs when the entire ligament is torn into two pieces.
The collateral ligaments help keep your knee stable. They help keep your leg bones in place and keep your knee from moving too far sideways.
A collateral ligament injury can occur if you get hit very hard on the inside or outside of your knee.
Skiers and people who play basketball, football, or soccer are more likely to have this type of injury.
You may notice:
You also may notice that your knee feels unstable or seems to "give way" when using it.
After examining your knee, your doctor may send you to have an MRI. An MRI is a device that can take pictures of the tissues around your knee. The pictures will show whether these tissues have been stretched or torn. You also may have an X-ray to see if there is any damage to the bones in your knee.
If you have a collateral ligament injury, you may need:
Most people don't need surgery for an MCL injury. However, you may need surgery if your LCL is injured or if your injuries are severe and involve other ligaments in your knee.
Follow R.I.C.E. to help reduce pain and swelling:
You can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps with pain, but not swelling. You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
You should not put all of your weight on your leg if it hurts, or if your doctor tells you not to. Rest and self care may be enough allow the tear to heal. You should use crutches to protect the injured ligament.
Afterward, you will learn exercises to make the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around your knee stronger and more flexible.
Call your doctor if:
Medial collateral ligament injury - aftercare; MCL injury - aftercare; lateral collateral ligament injury - aftercare; LCL injury - aftercare
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Bearcroft PWP. Joint Disease. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 50.
Resnick D, Kransdorf M. Internal Derangement of Joints. In: Resnick D, Kransdorf MJ: Bone and Joint Imaging. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2005:chap 59.
Miller III RH, Azar, FM. Knee injuires. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, Daugherty K, Jones L, et al. Canale & Beaty: Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier, 2013:chap 45.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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