What is the MCL?
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a tough band of tissue, like a wide rubber band, that controls the side-to-side motion of the knee joint located on the inside of the knee. There are two collateral ligaments in the joint, one for each side of the knee.
The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) is on the outside of the knee. Medial collateral ligament injury treatment is a common practice in orthopaedic offices.
How Do MCL Tears Happen?
When either collateral ligament on either side of the knee is stretched too far, they can tear. Tears can occur in the middle of the ligament or closer to where it attaches to the bone.
It is quite common to tear other ligaments in addition to the MCL. Many people, when they tear their MCL, also tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) as well. Skiers often sustain this injury, so we see them often here in the mountains of Vail and Summit County.
MCL injuries are much more common than LCL injuries. MCL injuries occur most often while participating in sports such as football or skiing. When the lower leg is forced sideways, the strain on the MCL may cause it to stretch too far or tear.
Diagnosis and Treatment of MCL Tears
Medial collateral ligament injury treatment begins with an evaluation of structural damage. Typically these injuries are caused by an event that causes swelling and bleeding.
The doctor will try to identify which ligaments are torn and the extent of the damage, but usually the patient will have to rest for a time with a knee splint or brace until swelling and muscle spasms subside.
For serious injuries, the doctor may order an X-ray to confirm that no damage to the shinbone (tibia) or the thighbone (femur) occurred. An MRI may also be required to reveal any damage to the ACL or other ligaments in the knee.
Partial Medial Collateral Ligament Injury Treatment
If the MCL is inured on its own (with no ACL tear), it will often heal without the need for surgery. Partial medial collateral ligament injury treatment normally doesn’t involve surgery if the injury is isolated in the MCL. Treatment is usually focused on reducing swelling and pain.
Patients may have to walk using crutches until they can walk without limping. Physical therapy with range-of-motion exercises typically treats most isolated MCL injuries, and after a few weeks, the patient can walk normally.
Surgery is only required if there is a complete MCL tear or additional damage to other ligaments, or to the bone.