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What You Need to Know About MCL Tears

Man with knee pain

There are four main stabilizing ligaments of the knee that connect the thigh bone (femur) to the lower leg (tibia or fibula).  These include:

  1. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): located in the center of the knee and prevents the shin from moving too far forward
  2. Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): located in the center of the knee and prevents the shin from moving too far backward
  3. Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): located on the outside of the knee and prevents the knee from moving side-to-side
  4. Medial collateral ligament (MCL): located on the inside part of the knee and prevents the knee from moving side-to-side

The MCL is a thick and strong ligament that connects the femur to the tibia. It can be injured at its attachment to the femur, the tibia, or within the ligament itself.

The MCL is most commonly injured as a result of contact to the outside part of the knee with the foot planted, such as when an offensive lineman gets “rolled up” by another player from the side. This puts stress on the stabilizing ligament on the inside of the knee and can result in injury. Most MCL injuries can occur on their own or simultaneously with other ligaments in the knee.

MCL injuries vary widely in their severity, ranging from pain sprain or partial tear to complete tear or avulsion. Fortunately, the vast majority of MCL injuries can be effectively treated without surgery since the MCL has great healing potential.

Signs of an MCL injury may include pain over the inside part of the knee, swelling, bruising, pain with rotation of the lower leg (such as during pivoting), and a sense of looseness.

If you suspect an MCL injury, it is important to be evaluated by an orthopedic care provider so that the most appropriate treatment can be decided.  Treatment is based upon severity and type of injury and may include:

  • Simple activity modification
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Use of a brace for support during the healing process
  • Potential surgery to repair or reconstruct the ligament in more severe cases

Dr. Samuel Taylor, Sports Medicine Surgeon, has developed a unique understanding of the demands and anxieties faced by injured athletes at all levels. His clinical expertise includes minimally invasive and reconstructive techniques of the shoulder, elbow, and knee. Dr. Taylor currently serves as Associate Team Physician for the New York Football Giants and team physician for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) semi-professional football team. 

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.