Medial Collateral Ligament Injury
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a ligament on the inside of the knee. An injury to the MCL might result in the ligament stretching, or partially or completely tearing. MCL injuries are one of the most common knee injuries, and generally occur from force to the outside of the knee.
Ligaments are made up of collagen fibers and designed to help stabilize joints. The MCL is part of a system of four ligaments that are crucial to mechanical stability within the knee joint. This ligament is intended to prevent the knee from bending inward. Strong impact to the outside of the knee, lower thigh, or upper thigh can force the knee to bend inward, thus damaging the MCL. The most common cause of an MCL injury is this angle of external impact applied while the foot is planted firmly on the ground. Athletes often feel immediate pain upon injury of the MCL and might even hear or feel the popping or tearing of the ligament.
Athletes usually injure their MCL while bending, pivoting, or twisting. We commonly see MCL injuries in soccer players, football players, or skiers. As with any injury, when we’re looking at an MCL injury, we’re looking to understand the root of the problem so that we can fix it and prevent it in the future. Our treatment plan often focuses on addressing the whole-body function for a better and safer athletic performance in the long term.
MCL injuries are graded on three levels. In a grade I injury, less than 10% of the collagen fibers are torn. In these cases, a patient may experience tenderness, but without any loss of stability. A Grade 2 sprain manifests in a range of symptoms great enough to call for a grade II- and a grade II+. With these injuries, we find that athletes still have their stability, but with more tenderness, pain, and swelling than in grade I.
The worst MCL injuries are classified as grade III. In these cases, the MCL is completely ruptured and the patient will experience instability, as well as serious pain and swelling. In many cases, a patient with a grade III MCL injury won’t be able to bend the knee.
We use these grades to more accurately diagnose an injury to the ligament, from a sprain, to a partial tear, to a complete tear. This allows our experienced physical therapists to create a recovery plan that’s custom to your needs as a patient and an athlete.