Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injuries to the knee typically happen without warning and maybe be difficult to prevent. However, certain situations, activities, and risk factors make some people more likely to experience a LCL injury.

Causes of LCL Tears

LCL tears are commonly seen in contact sports or activities that involve twisting and heavy lifting. They can occur in the following instances:

  • When the inside (medial side) of knee is hit directly, such as during soccer or a football tackle, putting extra stress on the LCL on the outside (lateral side) the knee
  • Quickly changing directions, such as cutting or pivoting maneuvers, which puts unusual pressure on the knee causing the ligament to stretch or tear
  • Landing awkwardly on the knee, which may happen after a jump in volleyball or basketball
  • Hyperextending the knee, which is caused when the joint is pushed passed its normal range of motion either forwards or backwards

    See Understanding Knee Hyperextension

  • Squatting or lifting heavy objects, such as during weightlifting or in physical occupations

While LCL injuries most commonly occur during sports, the ligament can be injured during other accidents, such as slipping on a wet surface or missing a step while using stairs.


Risk Factor of LCL Tears

While anyone can injure their lateral collateral ligament, participation in certain sports put people at higher risk. People who frequently participate in contact and non-contact sports that involve tackling, cutting, pivoting, or jumping are more likely to sustain a LCL injury. These sports include but are not limited to football, hockey, soccer, and skiing.

LCL Tear Prevention

Prevention techniques are especially important for people who have had previous ligament tears as they are at higher risk of re-injury. Some people with past ligament tears also wear knee braces, though current research does not clearly indicate this is helpful in preventing injury.


Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) tears are difficult to prevent. However, certain precautions can be taken that may help:

  • Using proper technique when doing physical activities. Proper technique, such as learning the correct knee positioning during activities, and alignment may help prevent LCL injuries, especially when jumping, lifting, and pivoting.
  • Stretching and strengthening the legs. Proper conditioning can increase strength and improve flexibility around the knee, and may help reduce the risk of an LCL injury.
  • Wearing a knee brace. Some athletes, such as football linemen or snow skiers, may try to reduce the chance of an LCL tear by wearing specialized knee braces meant to prevent side-to-side movement.

Dr. Michael McCabe is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and general orthopedics at Apex Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. He previously served as a sports medicine specialist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, caring for a variety of patient populations including Wounded Warriors and United States Congress.

Dr. Michael Khadavi is a sports medicine physician specializing in spine care, musculoskeletal ultrasound, regenerative medicine, and sports-related injuries. He practices at Apex Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Khadavi is an educator in regenerative medicine and has been an invited lecturer at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists, Major League Soccer, and Stanford University.