What Is an MCL Injury?

Did you know that our knees cannot bend inwards? that is possible with the help of a band of tissues inside the knees. The band runs from the thigh bone to the lower leg/shin. The band also holds our bones together to help keep our knees stable and working when we move. The crew of tissue is also called the medial collateral ligament (MCL). When we damage our MCL in a sprain or tear, the knee can bend too far in a direction that it is not supposed to. The damage is called MCL injury. The good news is that the injury may heal on its own with primary care, rest, and rehab. However, you may require surgery if you have a severe injury.

What Are the Causes of MCL Injury?

It is common to hit our knees very hard while playing sports, riding our bikes, running or just being active. Our MCL can stretch out far enough to strain or tear during activities involving bending, twisting or a quick change of direction.

Types of MCL Injury

To help distinguish how severe our MCL injury is, we group them into three categories. The less severe injury is a grade 1, while the most severe is a grade 3.

  • A grade 1 MCL injury means that the ligament has been stretched out but not torn. It is slightly damaged but can keep the knee joint stable.
  • A grade 2 injury means that the ligament has a partial tear. We experience some instability along the knee joint because of the damage.
  • A grade 3 MCL injury occurs when the ligament has a complete tear or split from the bone. We experience joint instability.

What Are Some MCL Sprain Symptoms?

Generally, the MCL sprain recovery time can be anywhere between a few days and a few weeks, depending on the severity. The following are MCL sprain symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness along the inner part of the knee. Depending on the severity of the injury, the pain will be of varying degrees. We experience sharp and constant knee pain in the case of severe sprains. We experience dull and throbbing pain in the case of mild sprains. It is common to experience pain while in movement, which subsided while at rest.
  • There is a swelling around the sprained section of the knee. The amount of swelling will vary depending on how severe the sprain is and how long it has been since you sustained the injury.
  • Knee instability, leading to your knee buckling under the pressure of your weight
  • Bruising, moderate to severe, depending on the sprain. There could also be some discoloration on or around the front of the knee cap.
  • Stiffness and decreased movement due to pain and swelling.
  • A popping sound when the injury occurs indicates a grade 3 sprain injury.

What Are Some MCL Tear Symptoms?

While minor tears take us several weeks to heal, severe MCL tears recovery time takes several months. Some of the MCL tear symptoms include:

  • Sudden severe swelling and pain
  • A popping sound during the time of the injury and when you use the joint
  • The feeling of a loose joint. The knees might wobble more than they should when you attempt to move
  • Inability to bear weight or pressure on the affected leg
  • Immediate bruising and discoloration of the kneecap
  • Immobility of the affected joint. The knee may feel stiff, and the joints may lock or catch
  • Visible lumps, bumps, or other deformities. The knee might lurch to the side.

How To Make an MCL Injury Diagnosis

Most MCL injuries cause immediate pain or discomfort. However, others, like overuse injuries, might be noticed later. We are encouraged to visit the doctor routinely or every time we suspect an MCL injury.

At the hospital, to tell whether the MCL had any damages and how bad it is, the doctor checks our range of movement, swelling and tenderness of the knee. The three types of tests used to diagnose are:

Physical examination involves pressing or pushing the knee. The movement is done with legs both bent and straight to check on how bad the problem is.

Medical history involves answering the questions. The doctor examines and asks questions on how the injury occurred and what you were doing. They would like to know the symptoms now of injury.

They also want to know how we had been getting around since the injury. Imaging tests, like x-ray, CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs, were sometimes opted for. X-ray tests show any broken bone, while MRI tests show how bad the MCL damage is.

How Is an MCL Injury Treated?

Treatment options vary depending on how severe the injury is. The fastest way to heal a mild to moderate MCL injury is resting the wound at home and physical therapy. Some of the treatment options include:

Home Treatment

There are several home treatments options we opt for the injury, and we don’t need surgery in most cases. They include:

  • Rest- we need to reduce our activities for a few weeks. The doctors might recommend crutches to relieve pressure put on the sore knee.
  • Ice- we put ice or a cold pack on our knee for 10-20 minutes every 3-4 hours. It helps reduce swelling and pain.
  • Compression- we put an elastic bandage, strap, or sleeves on our sore knee. It helps to control the swelling.
  • Elevation- we prop our sore knee on a pillow when we iced it, or any time we must sit or lie down.
  • Knee brace- we wear to stabilize the sore knee and protect it from further injury while allowing some movement.
  • Over-the-counter pain medication like aspirin and ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. It is essential to follow the doctor’s instructions.



During recovery from our injury, we also need to regain knee strength and prevent further damage. Such treatments include:

  • Physical therapy exercises strengthen the muscles and improve the knee’s range of motion.
  • Wearing a protective knee brace during physical activity.
  • Limiting activities that can cause further injury.


It is sporadic to undergo surgery because of an MCL injury. However, it is necessary when the damage is very severe such that the torn ligament cannot repair itself. It also happens when the MCL injury occurs with other ligament injuries. Arthroscopy happens to examine the extent of the injury and look for associated injuries. Once the damage is known, the surgeon will then attach torn ligaments. There are different reattaching methods: large stitches, bone staples, a metal screw, or a device called a suture anchor.

How Long Is an MCL Recovery Time?

MCL tear recovery time for sprains and tears varies based on the injured ligament and the mcl injury treatment option. The most important part of the healing process is getting us back to normal before resuming activities.

- Grade 1 MCL sprain recovery time takes a few days since the injuries are minor.

- Grade 2 MCL partial tear recovery time can take up to four weeks.

- Grade 3 MCL tear recovery time typically takes eight or more weeks. The injuries are most severe, and that is why the recovery period is most prolonged.

Tips To Prevent MCI Injuries

As athletes, we should avoid getting injuries as much as possible. Injuries come in the way of our daily activities and sometimes even cause lifelong effects to us. Some tips we could practice preventing us from getting MCI injuries include:

  • Warm up properly and stretch before doing exercise. Cold muscles are prone to over-stretching and tears, while warm muscles are more flexible. Also, try afterward to cool down.
  • Regularly perform exercises that strengthen the leg muscles. The activities help to stabilize our knee joints and protect them from injury.
  • Always use proper techniques when engaging in activities that strain our knees, like exercises. Learn the appropriate way to move and the correct posture for different activities.
  • Practice good athlete etiquette like using proper gear explicitly designed for the activity and lacing our footwear correctly.
  • Wait until healing an injury before starting an activity again. Do not work through the pain. It is also important to initiate the intensity of the activity gradually after recovery.
  • We are also encouraged to use protective gear during sports. The protective equipment supports the knees during activities that might increase the risk of injury.

In conclusion, MCI injuries occur during exercise or while participating in sports. We are at risk of injuries if we haven’t been regularly active, do not warm up beforehand or play contact sports. We must visit a doctor in case we suspect an MCI injury. The severity of the injury determines the mcl injury treatment options available and the time it will recover. To prevent MCL injuries, we should use the proper technique, have protective gear, and know when to stop the activity. A routine checkup is also encouraged to diagnose injuries that occur from the overuse of ligaments. Jump to top

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