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Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injury

Conditions Basics

What is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury?

A medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury is a sprain or tear to the medial collateral ligament. The MCL is a band of tissue on the inside of your knee. It connects your thighbone to the bone of your lower leg. The MCL keeps the knee from bending inward.

You can hurt your MCL during activities that involve bending, twisting, or a quick change of direction. For example, the MCL can be injured in football or soccer when the outside of the knee is hit. This type of injury can also occur during skiing and in other sports with lots of stop-and-go movements, jumping, or weaving.

What are the symptoms?

You may have swelling, pain, and tenderness along the inside of your knee. Several hours after you've injured your knee, your pain may increase, and it might become harder to move your knee. You may notice some bruising.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health. You'll be asked how you injured your knee and about your symptoms at the time of injury. Your doctor will check your range of movement, swelling, and tenderness. You may have some tests, including an X-ray and an MRI.

How is an MCL injury treated?

Your treatment will depend on how severe your injury is.

  • Mild or grade 1 injuries usually get better in 1 to 3 weeks. You may only need home treatment along with using crutches for a short time.
  • Moderate or grade 2 injuries usually get better in about a month. You may need to wear a hinged knee brace and limit how much weight you put on your leg.
  • Severe or grade 3 injuries may require wearing a hinged brace for a few months, and limiting weight on the leg for 4 to 6 weeks.

    A severe tear may need surgery. But this usually isn't done unless you also injure other parts of your knee, such as the ACL or meniscus.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to increase range of motion and strengthen your quadriceps muscles and hamstrings.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up your leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Follow instructions about how much weight you can put on your leg and how to walk with crutches, if your doctor recommends them.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Wear a brace, if your doctor recommends it, to support your knee while it heals. Wear it as directed.
  • Do stretches or strength exercises your doctor suggests.

Credits

Current as of: July 17, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.