The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the ligament that is located on the inner part of the knee joint. It runs from the femur (thighbone) to the top of the tibia (shinbone) and helps in stabilizing the knee. Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury can result in a stretch, partial tear, or complete tear of the ligament. Injuries to the MCL commonly occur because of a pressure or stress on the outside part of the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) may be torn along with a MCL injury.
The sprain is classified into three degrees:
- First-degree sprain: Ligament fibers may be injured, but with no significant tear and no loss of integrity
- Second-degree sprain: Not all ligament fibers are torn. Ligament remains intact overall
- Third-degree sprain: Complete tear of ligament and loss of overall integrity
What symptoms may I have?
Patients with an MCL tear have symptoms such as knee pain, swelling, and locking or catching sensation in the knee during movement. Patients may also feel as though their knee may 'give out' suddenly or buckle.
The symptoms of MCL sprain include:
- Tenderness and pain in the inner side of the knee
- Swelling and bruising
- Stiffness of knee
- Difficulty walking
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will usually diagnose an MCL injury based on a physical examination of your knee. To determine looseness of the ligament, an MCL test may be performed by exerting pressure on the outside of your knee while your knee is bent to 25 degrees. An X-ray or MRI scan may be ordered to determine soft tissue injury, confirm the extent of damage, and assess the integrity of your knee.
How is the MCL managed?
Treatment options include non-surgical and surgical treatment. Most commonly non-surgical management is all that is required.
Non-surgical treatment consists of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE protocol); all assist in controlling pain and swelling. A knee brace may be worn to help immobilize your knee. Use of crutches may be recommended initially to protect your knee and to keep you from putting too much weight on your knee while walking. Physical therapy exercises may be recommended to improve knee motion and strength. You will be advised to take adequate rest and not to strain yourself. An ice pack may be applied for 10 to 20 minutes for every 1 to 2 hours to reduce swelling. You may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce the pain and swelling. Your doctor may recommend crutches and braces to support, protect and limit movement in your knee. Rehabilitation procedures and exercises for MCL sprains generally focus on regaining knee range-of-motion, muscle control and strength, and reduce swelling.
Surgery is performed very rarely, in case of significant third-degree ligament injury.