Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the four main ligaments in the knee. The MCL connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia) and functions to stabilize the knee.
Injuries to the MCL often occur following direct contact in which a force on the outside aspect of the knee pushes the knee inwards towards the other knee. Occasionally, MCL injuries are the result of sudden acute, twisting episodes. When the MCL is injured, the MCL is either stretched (1st degree injury), partially torn (2nd degree injury), or fully torn (3rd degree injury).
Signs & Symptoms:
Typically patients report significant pain on the inside aspect of the knee. This pain is often reproduced with turning or twisting-type motions. Often patients report hearing or feeling a “pop” at the time of injury. Usually patients notice swelling over the next 24-48 hours.
The diagnosis of an MCL tear is typically made by a combination of the patient’s history, the findings on physical examination, and an MRI scan.
The MCL has excellent blood supply and thus excellent healing potential. The vast majority of isolated MCL injuries can be treated non-operatively. Icing, anti-inflammatory medications, protected weight bearing using a brace and/or crutches as needed, combined with a physical therapy protocol are typically recommended.
The duration of recovery depends on the severity of the injury to the MCL. Typically healing of the MCL requires 4-12 weeks. Rarely, if the ligament is completely ruptured, healing may not occur and surgery may be required to repair or reconstruct the ligament. In addition, if the MCL injury is associated with other injuries, such as an ACL tear, surgery may be necessary.