MCL, or medial collateral ligament, is a wide thick band of tissue that runs down the inner part of the knee from the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shinbone) about 4 – 6 inches from the knee. If you have injured your MCL, keep reading to learn more about treatment and recovery.
How MCL Injuries Occur
When the outer part of your knee is hit hard, the MCL, which runs along your inner knee, can stretch out, get strained, or tear. Those who play certain sports, like hockey or football, may injure their MCL this way.
MCL injuries can also happen if your knee is suddenly pushed to the side or if it twists or bends out too far. You will experience difficulty walking, the knee will feel stiff or can lock up when you move.
Injuries occur most often when the knee is hit directly on the outer side.
What Are Your Treatment Options?
For most MCL injuries, conservative treatment is suggested first. That includes the PRICE therapy method. It is best utilized during the first 24 to 72 hours after injury.
Prevention of further damage is the first order of business. Begin by avoiding any weight bearing activity by using a crutch, cane, a splint or a brace.
Rest is essential for healing. You don’t want to stress the area or feel pain, but at the same time, minor movement can be beneficial. Doing painless range of motion and other contractions of the muscles near the injury can help speed recovery.
Ice the area to prevent swelling and to minimize and reduce pain. Limit icing to 15 minute cycles over 1 – 2 hours for best effectiveness.
Compression with a wrap or elastic bandage can also reduce swelling. Place the wrap or bandage a few inches below the injury.
Elevate the knee to reduce swelling and pooling of blood. Position the knee above the level of the heart. Elevate during the day and use pillows under the knee at night. Ice can also be applied during this time.
In addition to the PRICE method, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds, wear a knee brace if that helps, and use crutches with mild exercise.
Minor injuries can heal on their own with the above PRICE method. For a more severe injury, physical therapy might be needed. Recovery may take several weeks to several months.
Surgery Can Be Needed
Surgery for a torn or strained MCL is rarely needed but can occur. It is usually recommended for professional or elite athletes, if there are several ligament injuries, and if you have continued knee instability after conservative treatments.
MCL surgery is normally performed through tiny open incisions on the inner knee. How quickly you recover from surgery depends on your general health, your age, and the type of surgery performed. Finally, recovery consists of physical therapy to gain full functionality and range of motion.
Another alternative is platelet rich plasma (PRP) for MCL tears. It is not clear if this regenerative therapy is successful long term, but studies conclude it is effective short term.