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Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries

An MCL injury is a sprain or tear in the medial collateral ligament. The MCL is a band of tissue that runs along the inner edge of your knee, which connects your thigh bone to your shin. The MCL keeps the knee stable and prevents it from bending inward. When the MCL is damaged, your knee can overextend itself, or bend too far in a certain direction, resulting in injury. 

Causes and Types of MCL Injuries

MCL injuries can occur during activities that involve bending, twisting, or a quick change of direction. People who play football, hockey, or other high-impact sports may injure their MCL this way. 

  • Mild or Grade 1: The ligament is mildly damaged in a Grade 1 sprain. It has been slightly stretched, but is still able to keep the knee joint stable.
  • Moderate or Grade 2: A Grade 2 sprain stretches the ligament to the point where it becomes loose, often referred to as a partial tear.
  • Severe or Grade 3: A complete tear, or Grade 3 sprain, happens when the ligament has been split into two pieces and the knee joint is unstable.

Symptoms of an MCL Injury

There are several signs and symptoms that point to an MCL injury. Several hours after your injury has occured, pain may increase and it may become harder to move your knee. Common symptoms include: 

  • Pain on the inside of your knee
  • Swelling or tenderness over the site of the injury
  • Instability (the feeling that your knee is giving way)
  • Bruising

How are MCL Injuries Diagnosed?

Your orthopedic doctor will assess your knee and ask questions about your medical history. He or she will also ask how you injured your knee and what your symptoms were at the time of the injury. During your physical examination, your doctor will check for range of motion, swelling, and tenderness to determine the severity of the injury. Imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, may be used for further diagnosis. 

Treatment for MCL Injuries

Injuries to the MCL rarely require surgery. Most MCL injuries can be treated at home using conservative methods. However, in some cases, surgery may be needed to repair the damaged ligament. 

Nonsurgical Treatment

MCL injuries can usually be treated with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Your doctor may suggest that you use crutches and wear a brace that protects your knee but still allows for some movement. You will likely need to reduce your activity for a few weeks while the knee heals. Elements of non-surgical treatment for MCL injuries include:

  • Ice – Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 15-20 minutes at a time, with at least 1 hour between icing sessions. Do not use chemical cold products (“blue” ice) directly on the skin.
  • Bracing – If your doctor recommends a brace, it can help to support your knee while it heals.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – Medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy – Your doctor may suggest stretches or strengthening exercises to restore function to your knee and strengthen the leg muscle that supports it.


During MCL surgery, your doctor will make small incisions in your knee and insert an arthroscope – a thin, tube-shaped instrument. Methods for reattaching or reconstructing the ligament can vary. Options include using a portion of the patellar tendon (which connects the tibia and the kneecap) or the hamstring tendon (from the back of the thigh). MCL surgery is typically an outpatient procedure, so an overnight stay in the hospital is not necessary. 

Get MCL Injuries Treated at Raleigh Orthopaedic

At Raleigh Orthopaedic, our knee specialists have experience treating a wide range of knee conditions, including MCL injuries. We will work with you to understand the full extent of your injury and create a customized treatment plan that promotes a positive recovery. To learn more about our services, please contact us today or find a clinic near you.

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