Collateral Ligament Tear

A collateral ligament tear is an injury to one of the two ligaments that provide stability to the knee joint. There are two collateral ligaments in the knee – the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). The MCL is located on the inner side of the knee joint and the LCL is located on the outer side of the knee joint. A tear to either of these ligaments can cause pain, instability, and difficulty moving the knee. Collateral ligament tears can range from mild to severe, with the severity of the injury determining the appropriate treatment approach.

Causes of Collateral Ligament Tear

Collateral ligament tears are typically caused by a forceful blow or trauma to the knee, such as a sudden twisting or bending motion or a direct hit to the knee joint. Common causes of collateral ligament tears include:

Contact sports: In sports such as football, basketball, or soccer, a collision or blow to the knee can cause a collateral ligament tear.

Non-contact sports: In sports such as skiing, the knee can be injured due to excessive twisting or torque on the joint.

Falls: Falling on the knee or landing on the knee in an awkward position can also cause a collateral ligament tear.

Car accidents: The knee can be injured in a car accident due to the force of impact or the knee striking an object in the car.

Degenerative changes: In some cases, degenerative changes in the knee joint can weaken the collateral ligaments and increase the risk of injury.

Signs and Symptoms of Collateral Ligament Tear

The signs and symptoms of a collateral ligament tear can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Common symptoms of a collateral ligament tear include:

  • Pain: Pain on the inner or outer side of the knee joint, depending on which ligament is injured.
  • Swelling: Swelling and bruising around the knee joint.
  • Instability: Feeling that the knee is unstable or giving way, especially when standing or walking.
  • Stiffness: Difficulty moving the knee joint, especially when trying to straighten or bend the knee.
  • Popping or tearing sensation: A popping or tearing sensation at the time of injury may be felt.
  • Limited range of motion: The knee may not be able to move through its full range of motion.
  • Weakness: The leg may feel weak or give out when attempting to bear weight.

It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms following a knee injury, as a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can help prevent further damage and promote healing.

Treatment of Collateral Ligament Tear

The treatment approach for a collateral ligament tear depends on the severity of the injury. In general, physiotherapy can help reduce pain and swelling, improve range of motion and strength, and promote healing. Treatment options may include:

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE): Following an injury, it’s important to rest the knee and apply ice and compression to reduce swelling. Elevating the leg can also help reduce swelling and promote healing.

Physical therapy: A physiotherapist can design a rehabilitation program that includes exercises to improve knee strength and stability, as well as range of motion. Exercises may include stretching, low-impact exercises, and weight-bearing exercises.

Bracing: In some cases, a brace or support may be used to provide additional stability to the knee joint and reduce the risk of further injury.

Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be required to repair a torn collateral ligament. Following surgery, physical therapy is typically required to promote healing and restore knee function.

Pain management: Pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be recommended to help manage pain and discomfort.

It’s important to work with a physiotherapist to design a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and goals. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, many people with collateral ligament tears are able to fully recover and return to their normal activities.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about collateral ligament tear please call us at 03 9836 1126.



Li, Y., Yao, Y., Chen, X., Zhang, L., & Zhao, Y. (2021). The effects of early mobilization on rehabilitation after medial collateral ligament injury of the knee: A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation

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