Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries
A medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury happens when the ligament located in the knee joint is injured. Ligaments are thick, strong bands of tissue that connect bone to bone, which helps to keep the knee joint stable. An MCL injury does not have to mean the ligament is completely torn – it can also be strained, sprained, or partially torn. There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available to help heal your ligament injury. Nonsurgical treatments are the main ways to treat these injuries. But if the damage cannot heal on its own, then surgery may be necessary.
Three bones meet to form your knee joint: your thighbone (femur), your kneecap (patella), and your shinbone (tibia). Your kneecap sits in front of the joint to provide protection. These bones connect to each other with ligaments. There are four primary ligaments, and they act like strong ropes to hold the bones together and keep your knee stable.
The medial or “inside” collateral ligament (MCL) connects the femur to the tibia, controls the sideways motion of your knee, and braces it against unusual movement.
Since the knee joint relies just on the ligaments, it is easily injured. Any direct contact to the knee or hard muscle contraction, such as changing direction rapidly while running or falling on your knee from a high place, can injure your knee ligament.
MCL injuries often occur as a result of a direct blow to the outside of the knee, pushing the knee inward toward the other knee. A direct blow puts pressure on the inside of the knee and causes the ligament to stretch or tear. An injury to MCL may include straining, spraining, and partially or completely tearing any part of the ligament.
The main symptom of an MCL injury is pain and swelling on the inside area of the knee, as well as instability.
Your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history, followed by a physical examination. During the exam, your physician will check all the structures of your injured knee and compare them to your non-injured knee. MCL injuries are usually diagnosed with just a physical examination, but sometimes your physician may order imaging tests to help confirm your diagnosis. These tests include:
- X-rays. Although x-rays will not show the injury to your MCL, it will show whether the damage is associated with a broken bone.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This test creates better images of your soft tissues, such as the MCL.
MCL injuries rarely need surgery. Nonsurgical treatments are very noninvasive and easy to accomplish. The only time MCL injuries would need to be treated surgically is if they cannot heal on their own with nonsurgical treatments.
There are several nonsurgical treatments options your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician may recommend, including:
- Ice. Icing your injury is crucial in the healing process. The proper way to ice an injury is to use crushed ice directly to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, with at least 1 hour between icing sessions.
- Bracing. It is important to protect your knee from the same sideways force that caused the injury. Bracing helps to protect the injured ligament from stress. To further protect the knee, you may also get crutches that prevent you from putting weight on your leg. You may need to change your daily activities to avoid movements that could further injure your knee.
- Physical Therapy. Physical therapy can restore function to your knee and strengthen the leg muscles that support it.
If the MCL is torn in such a way that it cannot heal on its own, or is accompanied by other injuries, your physician may suggest surgery to repair it. In most cases, however, surgical treatments are unnecessary.
Contact your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician to learn more about MCL injuries.