Collateral Ligament Tears

Introduction/ What is?

Collateral ligament tears are common knee injuries that usually occur during sports. The collateral ligaments connect the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone) and help to stabilise the knee joint.

What are the symptoms?

The common symptoms of collateral ligament tears are:

  1. Popping sound/ feeling during the injury
  2. Significant pain at the inside or outside of the knee immediately after the injury, depending on which collateral ligament was injured
  3. Patients are still able to stand and limp even if they have suffered a collateral ligament injury
  4. There is usually no significant swelling of the knee
  5. The injured side of the knee will usually be rather tender to touch

Anatomy/ Pathology

The collateral ligaments are found on either side of the knee, connecting the femur to the tibia. The knee is a hinged joint designed to flex and extend only in one plane. The collateral ligaments prevent the knee from opening up side to side. Forces causing the leg to deviate either outwards or inwards can cause the collateral ligaments to rupture.

What caused it?

Sports injuries where a force is directed from the side of the knee with the foot planted on the ground is the most common way the collateral ligaments are injured. If the force is directed from medial to lateral, the lateral collateral ligament can be ruptured. The converse is true.  

Can it heal?

Yes the collateral ligaments can heal. However complete recover can take many months. Often in excess of half a year. Once they are healed, sporting ability is usually not significantly affected.

What tests can be done to diagnose this?

An MRI scan is by far the best way to detect presence of a collateral ligament tear.

What treatment options are there?

Isolated collateral ligament injuries are best treated with a period of rest, and wearing a hinged knee brace for 6 – 8 weeks. It is important, however, to ensure there are no other accompanying injuries to the knee. If the collateral ligament rupture is accompanied by rupture of other major ligaments like the ACL or PCL, the collateral ligament may require surgical fixation as well as knee stability is poor in multi-ligament injuries. 

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