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Treatment Orthopedics

LCL Tear

Treatment depends on the extent of injury. Severe LCL tears, which often happen along with other knee damage, may require surgery, followed by physical therapy. Less severe injuries usually respond to physical therapy alone. We offer the full range of physical therapies, including exercise regimens, functional activities and neuromuscular reeducation (techniques that train the area to move normally again). Our specialists guide each patient through a personalized program designed to facilitate healing, recover function and improve physical performance.

Although severe injuries often require surgery, lesser damage usually responds well to nonsurgical treatment. Recovery time depends on the injury's severity.

Rehabilitation for an LCL tear consists of:

  • A period of rest
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy

Once pain and swelling have subsided, you should be able to begin exercises to restore strength and normal range of motion.

If your torn LCL doesn't heal sufficiently, you may experience instability in the joint, making it susceptible to reinjury. Surgery to treat a torn LCL usually calls for general anesthesia and takes one to two hours, though it may take longer if other knee injuries – such as a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament – also require surgical treatment. The surgeon makes an incision on the outside of the knee to gain access to the torn ligament. In some cases, the ligament is reattached to the bone with sutures, screws or other devices. In other cases, the ligament is reconstructed with a tendon from either the patient's other knee or a cadaver knee.

After surgery, patients work closely with a physical therapist on regaining motion and strength. One to two weeks after surgery, you'll see the doctor again for a physical exam, removal of sutures and X-rays. You'll generally be using crutches and a knee brace for six weeks after surgery. Rehabilitation plans vary according to the specific injury and surgical procedure, though a full return to sports is generally achieved nine to 12 months after surgery.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Recommended reading

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Why are women winding up with more knee injuries? Researchers suspect one of the most likely causes is the way women are built. Learn more here.

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