Although Lateral Collateral Ligament sprains occur most often in contact sports, even a slight misstep while running, in which the tibia and lower leg are rotated inward, may produce enough force needed to cause an LCL sprain. The LCL is a fibrous, cordlike structure located along the outside of the knee that attaches the femur to the fibula of the lower leg. The LCL is an important component in the knee joint, responsible for extension and flexion movements.
Treatment of an LCL sprain is variant depending on the severity of the injury. In a less severe Grade 1 injury, returning to running can be achieved in four weeks, following a rehabilitation program, according to Sports Injury Clinic. Signs of a Grade 1 LCL sprain include mild tenderness to the outside portion of the knee, absence of swelling, and slight pain when force is applied to the knee bent at a 30-degree angle. In a Grade 2 or 3 injury, there is some swelling over the ligament, intense pain and a feeling of instability during movement. In the case of a Grade 2 or 3 LCL sprain, seek medical attention immediately.
In the first 24 hours after the initial onset of pain, apply ice for 15 minutes every couple of hours. Rest completely, using crutches if you are unable to walk without pain. Maintenance and improvement of strength and flexibility of the muscles surrounding the knee is important during healing to ensure an easier transition to running movement after the injury has subsided. Complete flexibility and strength exercises during the entire rehabilitation process.
According to William Prentice, author of "Principles of Athletic Training," recovering full range of motion in the knee joint after an LCL sprain is one of the most critical aspects of the rehabilitation process. Prentice recommends a type of stretching technique, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, for knee injuries, which consist of alternating between contraction and relaxation of the muscles. To stretch the hamstring, a muscle that facilitates knee movement, lay flat on your back with the injured knee extended and ankle flexed to 90 degrees. Have a partner stand at your feet and grasp the extended knee and ankle joint while slowly pushing the leg toward your torso. Push against the resistance, while maintaining a straight leg for 10 seconds. Have your partner lower your leg and relax for 10 seconds. Repeat this sequence at least three times on each leg.
Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint, including the quadricep and hamstring, will help stabilize the joint to prevent further injury when returning to running. To strengthen the quadriceps, sit on the floor with your legs extended. Contract your quadricep muscles for 10 seconds, relax for three seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times on each leg. For hamstring strengthening, lay on your stomach with legs extended. Bend the knee at a 90-degree angle and hold for 10 seconds, relax for three seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times on each leg.
From the onset of an LCL sprain, maintenance of cardiovascular fitness is important, according to Prentice, to speed up recovery time and return to running. For the initial week after injury, do non-weight bearing activities, such as swimming and stationary bicycling. As long as no pain persists in the LCL, gradually progress into weight-bearing activities during the next three weeks. Prentice recommends a gradual return to running by first monitoring walking forward, backward and around curves, then jogging straight, around curves, uphill and downhill -- and then running forward and backward.