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Collateral Ligament Tear (MCL, LCL)


The collateral ligaments of the knee are like leather bands that go from one bone to the other, providing stability to the joint. The MCL (medial collateral ligament) and the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) provide stability to the knee with side-to-side force.  The MCL stabilizes the knee against a valgus stress (a force from the lateral aspect of the knee that stresses the medial side of the knee) and the LCL stabilizes the knee against varus stress (a force from the medial side of the knee that stresses the lateral aspect of the knee). A full or partial tear of these ligaments may cause increased movement between the thigh bone (Femur) and the shin bone (Tibia), causing the knee to be painful and feel unstable.  


The most common symptoms of a collateral ligament tear is pain at the side(s) of the knee especially with lateral/medial force. A pop may be felt when the injury occurs. Although the unstable feeling may be present with walking, it sometimes is only present when stressing the knee further. 

Dr. Steven Lee will perform a history and physical exam to help determine whether the MCL or LCL have been injured.  

MCL tears are the most common ligament tear of the knee. They are often causes by contact sports or any lateral force on the knee which causes valgus stress on the MCL. They may be associated with other injuries such as an ACL tear or meniscus tear, so it is very important to be evaluated. 


Diagnostic Testing

Dr. Lee may order an xray and/or MRI depending on your exam findings. Often a collateral ligament tear without other associated diagnoses may be treated non-operatively.  



The treatment depends on a number of factors however the majority of collateral ligament tears are treated successfully without surgery.  Dr. Lee may advise a hinged knee brace, rest, and NSAIDs (if not contraindicated).  The hinged knee brace allows the knee to bend but stabilizes the knee against lateral forces (valgus and varus stress).  Physical Therapy is also a mainstay of treatment. PRP injections might also be considered as a treatment option.

In some cases, surgery may be advised if the tear is severe, if the patient fails non-operative treatment, or if there are other associated diagnoses that warrant surgery such as an ACL tear or large meniscus tear. Learn more about scheduling surgery. 

Immediate Post-Operative Instructions

Please refer to the following pages for more information:

*It is important to note that all of the information above is not specific to anyone and is subject to change based on many different factors including but not limited to individual patient, diagnosis, and treatment specific variables.  It is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice.  Anyone seeking specific orthopedic advice or assistance should consult Dr. Steven Lee or an orthopedic specialist of your choice.


*Dr. Steven Lee is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and is double fellowship trained in the areas of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery, and Sports Medicine. He has offices in New York City, Scarsdale, and Westbury Long Island.  

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