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Medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) sprains are knee injuries. The MCL is the ligament that’s located on the inside of your knee joint. It links your thighbone (e.g., femur) and shinbone (e.g., tibia). The LCL, on the other hand, is the ligament that’s located on the outside of your knee —linking the thighbone and calf bone (e.g., fibula). Similar to the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the LCL’s primary function is to stabilize side-to-side as the knee as it moves.
The most common symptoms of an LCL or MCL tear are pain, stiffness, swelling and tenderness along the outside part of the knee. Your knee may feel loose, as though it will give way under stress, or it may lock. More severe tears can cause numbness or weakness in the foot, which occurs in the peroneal nerve if it is stretched at the time of injury or squeezed by swelling of the surrounding tissues.
Your doctor will generally ask you to describe how the knee was injured, whether you have had other knee injuries and how your knee has felt since the injury. You may be asked about your physical and athletic goals. This helps your doctor decide what treatment might be best for you. During the physical exam, the inside and outside of the knee will be checked for pain or tenderness and pressure will be put on both while the leg is both bent and straight. Depending on the degree of pain or looseness of your knee joint, the injury will be classified as I, II or III. Grade I is a bruised ligament with no instability. Grade II injuries have mild to moderate instability and represent partial or incomplete tears. Grade III injuries are very unstable and are often associated with other injuries.
Treatment for Grade I and Grade II injuries are typically the same—ice, a knee brace and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs). For Grade III MCL or LCL injuries, Dr. Robert A. Kayal and his team of surgeons perform arthroscopic medial and lateral ligament replacements without cutting through any tendons or muscle. This minimally invasive surgical procedure is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, so patients can return home the same day as surgery.