What is LCL surgery?

A lateral collateral ligament (LCL) reconstruction is an operation where doctors remove a damaged LCL and rebuild it. They usually use a graft to reconstruct the LCL. Doctors often use a tendon from your hamstrings or thigh muscles to rebuild your LCL.

Unlike some types of knee surgery, this is an open-knee operation. That means it's a full, traditional surgery instead of a minimally invasive one.

Doctors classify LCL injuries using three grades.

  • Grade 1 involves minor pain and tenderness.
  • Grade 2 involves major pain and swelling on the inside area of the knee.
  • Grade 3 injuries have major pain and tenderness, swelling and instability of the knee.

Surgery is usually only recommended for Grade 3 injuries or those that involve other parts of your knee.

What to expect from surgical LCL reconstruction

Preparing for surgery is important. Ask your doctor about all the risks and benefits so you understand the operation. If possible, talk to someone who has been through it. They can give you first-hand knowledge of what recuperation is like. Be aware of preoperative instructions. For example, before the operation you need to:

  • Report any fever or sickness
  • Tell your doctor about all medications you're taking
  • Stop using anti-inflammatory medicine like aspirin or ibuprofen one week before surgery

During the operation, your surgeon opens your knee using a small incision on the lateral side of your knee. They drill through your thigh bone and lower leg bone using special instruments to create tunnels. A piece of new tissue goes through the tunnels. Once they're in place, your surgeon affixes them using sutures, staples or screws. After the operation, you wear a brace and use crutches for six to eight weeks. It can take up to six months to fully recover.

Common conditions requiring surgical LCL reconstruction

LCL injuries usually happen after a direct blow to the inside of your knee. The force of the blow causes the ligaments to stretch too far and tear. It's a common sports injury, especially in football, basketball, hockey and skiing. Accidents and repeated stress injuries are also common conditions that leave your LCL vulnerable to tearing.

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