Lateral Collateral Ligament Sprain

What is lateral collateral ligament sprain?

A sprain is a joint injury that causes a stretch or tear in a ligament, a strong band of tissue connecting one bone to another. The lateral collateral ligament is located on the outer side of the knee. It attaches the thighbone (femur) to the outside bone in the lower leg (fibula).

Sprains are graded 1, 2, or 3 depending on their severity:

  • Grade 1 sprain: pain with minimal damage to the ligaments.
  • Grade 2 sprain: more ligament damage and mild looseness of the joint.
  • Grade 3 sprain: ligament is completely torn and the joint is very loose or unstable

How does it occur?

The lateral collateral ligament can be injured by twisting or from getting hit on the inner side of the knee.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include the following:

  • You have pain on the outer side of your knee.
  • Your knee is swollen and tender.
  • You have the feeling of your knee giving way.
  • You hear or feel a pop or snap at the time of injury.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how you injured your knee. He or she will examine your knee for tenderness on the outer side of your knee. He or she will gently move your knee around to see if the joint is stable and if the ligament is stretched or torn. You may have X-rays or an MRI of your knee.

Lateral Collateral Ligament Sprain

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Raise the knee on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Wrap an elastic bandage around your knee to keep the swelling from getting worse.
  • Using crutches as directed by your provider.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

You may need surgery to repair a complete tear.

How long will the effects last?

How long it takes to recover depends on your age, health, and if you have had a previous knee injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the sprain. A mild sprain may recover within a few weeks, but a severe sprain may take 6 weeks or longer to recover. If the ligament is torn, you may need surgery. If you have surgery to repair a torn ligament, your recovery may take 1 to 3 months. Ask your healthcare provider when you will be able to resume your normal activities.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your knee recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

You may safely return to your normal activities when, starting from the top of the list and progressing to the end, each of the following is true:

  • Your injured knee can be fully straightened and bent without pain.
  • Your knee and leg have regained normal strength compared to the uninjured knee and leg.
  • Your knee is not swollen.
  • You are able to walk, bend and squat without pain.

Return to your prior level of activity gradually. Talk to your healthcare provider about a knee brace to wear during sports. If pain occurs, contact your healthcare provider and decrease your activity to a pain-free level. If you feel that your knee is giving way or if you develop pain or have swelling in your knee, you should see your healthcare provider.

How can I prevent a lateral collateral ligament sprain?

You may be able to avoid these injuries by having strong thigh and hamstring muscles, as well as by gently stretching your legs before and after exercising. In activities such as skiing, be sure your ski bindings are set correctly by a trained professional so that your skis will release when you fall.


You can start gently stretching your calf muscle with the towel stretch right away. Make sure you feel only a gentle pull and not a sharp pain in your calf while you are doing the stretch.

Wearing a quarter to half-inch heel lift in each shoe might reduce your pain as you start to recover from your injury. You can purchase heel lifts at most pharmacies. You can stop using the heel lift when you have no pain while walking.

  • Towel stretch: Sit on a hard surface with your injured leg stretched out in front of you. Loop a towel around your toes and the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward your body keeping your leg straight. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat 3 times.

After you can do the towel stretch easily, you can start the standing calf stretch.

  • Standing calf stretch: Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about eye level. Keep your injured leg back with your heel on the floor. Keep the other leg forward with the knee bent. Turn your back foot slightly inward (as if you were pigeon-toed). Slowly lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times. Do this exercise several times each day.

After a couple days of stretching, you can begin strengthening your calf and lower leg muscles using elastic tubing as described in the next exercise.

  • Resisted ankle plantar flexion: Sit with your injured leg stretched out in front of you. Loop the tubing around the ball of your foot. Hold the ends of the tubing with both hands. Gently press the ball of your foot down and point your toes, stretching the tubing. Return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 15.

You may do the last 4 exercises when you can stand on your toes without pain.

  • Heel raise: Balance yourself while standing behind a chair or counter. Using the chair or counter as a support to help you, raise your body up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly lower yourself down without holding onto the support. (It’s OK to keep holding onto the support if you need to.) When this exercise becomes less painful, try lowering yourself down on the injured leg only. Repeat 15 times. Do 2 sets of 15. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

You can challenge yourself by standing on just your injured leg as you do this exercise.

  • Single leg balance: Stand without any support and try to balance on your injured leg. Keep standing on the one leg for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times. Begin with your eyes open and then try to do the exercise with your eyes closed. When you have mastered this, try doing the exercise standing on a pillow.
  • Nose touch: Stand on one leg facing a wall. Stand 4 inches from the wall. Keep your body and leg straight. Slowly lean forward, trying to touch your nose to the wall and then return to the starting position. Make sure you do not bend forward at your waist. Do 2 sets of 15.
  • Wall jump: Face a wall and place a piece of masking tape about 2 feet above your head. Jump up with your arms above your head and try to touch the piece of tape. Make sure you do a “spring” type of motion and try to land softly on your feet. As the exercise gets easier, jump on just your injured leg. Do 2 sets of 15.

Another good exercise is hopping. You can start at one end of the room and try to hop as high as you can across the room on one foot. Jumping rope is also a good exercise.