The medial collateral ligament, also known as the MCL, is a band of tissue that connects your femur to your tibia. It is the ligament that enables you to move your knee with ease.
There are three grades of MCL tears. Grades 1 and 2 are only partial tears of the ligament, while grade 3 is a complete tear of the MCL.
A torn MCL or other MCL injury may cause pain on the side of your knee. Other symptoms may include swelling, stiffness, locking, or popping in or around your knee.
If a knee specialist thinks that you could have an MCL tear, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform a thorough physical exam.
Orthopedic doctors may request imaging such as an X-ray or MRI to confirm the tear, including the location and severity of the injury.
Sports injuries are the most common cause of MCL tears. Many sports, specifically contact sports, can cause the knee to be hit from the outside. Some examples of sports that may increase your risk include:
Healing will depend on the grade of injury. In many cases, a minor MCL injury can heal on its own. You can aide the recovery with R.I.C.E. or other nonsurgical treatments.
A complete MCL tear will require surgical intervention. Your knee doctor will diagnose your MCL injury and provide treatment based on severity level.
If you have a Grade 1 MCL tear, you may still be able to walk with some pain. A grade 2 tear may make it somewhat difficult to walk. With a grade 3 tear, it will be extremely painful and difficult to walk. If you think you may have an MCL tear, it is best to seek the help of a knee doctor.
Most of the time, MCL injuries can be treated without surgery. At Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics, Grades 1 and 2 MCL sprains are typically treated with a hinge neoprene brace, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy.
With a grade 3 MCL injury, also known as a complete tear, surgical intervention is necessary. Fully tearing the MCL is rare, but it can be more common for athletes.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an MCL injury or knee pain, you should see a orthopedic specialist before the condition worsens.
Our top knee doctors, Dr. Elrod, Dr. Moore, Dr. Price, Dr. Martin, and Dr. Dierckman, see patients in Nashville and Franklin, TN.
To schedule an appointment, call one of our locations or book online.
Jacob, D. (2021, April 2). Can an MCL Tear Heal on Its Own? MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/can_an_mcl_tear_heal_on_its_own/article.htm.
Medial Collateral Ligament Tears. Cedars Senai. (n.d.). https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/m/medial-collateral-ligament-tears.html.
Mook, MD, W. (n.d.). MCL Sprains and Tears: Causes and Risk Factors. MCL Sprains and Tears: Causes and Risk Factors. https://www.sports-health.com/sports-injuries/knee-injuries/mcl-sprains-and-tears-causes-and-risk-factors.
UCSF Health . (n.d.). MCL Tear Diagnosis. ucsfhealth.org. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/mcl-tear/diagnosis.