MCL Injuries

An MCL injury is a sprain or tear to the medial collateral ligament (MCL).  The MCL is a band of tissue on the inside of the knee that connects the femur (thighbone) to the bone of the tibia (lower leg). The MCL keeps the knee from bending inward.  

Grade 1 Sprains: 

The ligament is mildly damaged and slightly stretched, but is still able to keep the knee joint stable.

Grade 2 Sprains: 

The ligament is stretched to the point where it becomes loose, often referred to as a partial tear.

Grade 3 Sprains: 

Referred to as a complete tear of the ligament; the ligament has been split into two pieces, and the knee joint is unstable.

Causes of MCL Injuries

The MCL is typically injured during activities that involve bending, twisting or a quick change of direction, sudden stopping, jumping or weaving are prone to MCL injuries. A traumatic impact to the outside part of the knee may also injure the MCL.

Symptoms of a MCL tear

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty moving the knee
  • Bruising
  • Feeling of instability

Treatment for MCL Injury

The majority of MCL injuries respond well to conservative care options.  The PRICE method of including rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medicines and elevation. In some instances crutches or a brace can assist in protecting movement in the knee during the recovery process.  A severe tear may require surgery; however, this is not common unless other injuries are present such as a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or meniscus.

The MCL may tear at its origin in the femur or at its insertion on the tibia. Tears at the femoral side typically heal better than those of the tibial side and rarely need surgery. If the MCL needs to be repaired, it is typically sewn back to bone using suture anchors. These are implants placed in the bone that have stitches attached.

Mild or grade 1 injuries typically heal in one to three weeks and may only need home treatment along with using crutches for a short time. 

Moderate or grade 2 injuries require six to eight weeks to heal. A knee brace or weight limitation on the knee may be necessary during the healing process. 

Severe or grade 3 injuries may require a brace for a few months and limiting weight on the leg for four to six weeks. Surgery may be necessary.