Torn MCL Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

 Torn MCL Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.

Torn MCL Symptoms

Torn MCL Symptoms

Medial collateral ligament injuries to the knee are not uncommon. The most common way that this injury occurs is through contact sports such as football, where a player will hit or fall on the outer part of the knee, forcing the inner knee to over-extend causing the mcl to stretch or tear. Another common way this injury occursThese can occur alone or in combination with other ligament or cartilage injuries of the knee in athletes. 

What is an MCL and its function?

  • Medial collateral ligament, a 4-6 inch thick ligament band on the medial(inner) side of your knee that connects from your femur(thighbone) to your tibia (shinbone). Your MCL’s main focus is to protect it from over-extending inward, and maintain stable lateral movements, and enables your knee to rotate.

How does a torn MCL occur?

“Any sport where there’s potential for direct contact on the outside of the knee is where you’re going to see MCL injuries,” says Dr. Harlan Selesnick, a member of the Association of Professional Team Physicians (PTP) and team physician of the Miami Heat of the NBA. “The good news is that unlike other knee injuries, MCL tears usually respond very well to non-surgical treatment.”

  • The most common way a torn mcl occurs is by impactful force created by someone else colliding into the knee at the point of stretching( partial-tear/sprain) or fully tearing the MCL. It is also common for an individual to tear their ACL(anterior cruciate ligament). An MCL tear is very common in football because of the high level of impact that occurs, so let’s look at a few NFL players, for example:
    • Troy Palumalu – sprained MCL injury:  Another football player landed on top of his knee while he was reaching down for the ball.
    • Jay Cutler – Grade II MCL tear injury.
    • Hines Ward MCL Tear – He received PRP(platelet-rich plasma) injections during Superbowl.
    • Knowshan Moreno – Grade I MCL tear. He was out for 1 to 2 weeks.
    • Marc Gasol: Grade 2 MCL Tear.

What are common torn MCL symptoms?

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Locking, unstable feeling

How do I diagnose a torn MCL?

Your doctor will evaluate your injured knee by checking for signs of swelling,pain and tenderness. He will test your knee by replicating some of the movements that caused the impact by bending, straightening, rotating and applying pressure to the knee where manageable. If pain and swelling our doctor will recommend “rice-ing” your knee to see if there’s substantial improvement. If it doesn’t feel right after a few weeks, it may be time for an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging.



Grade 1 – Minor sprain with some tenderness and pain on the surface of the mcl. MCL is stretched with minor tears.

Grade 2 – Knee is noticeably unstable and loose; increased amount of pain inside the knee; swelling may be present. MCL is torn to a certain degree, but not completely.

Grade 3 – Obvious amount of pain and tenderness inside the knee; swelling and knee is unstable. Ligament is completely torn. Additionally, when a grade three MCL tear happens, a torn ACL normally occurs alongside with it due to the level of impact to your knee. When this occurs, your knee may be too painful and swollen for a doctor to judge the appropriate diagnosis, which means you may need to wear a knee immobilizer and use the “rice” technique to wait until pain and swelling have decreased for your doctor to then diagnose what grade tear you’ve injured your knee. Afterwards, your doctor will require you to get an MRI(magnetic resonance image) scan of your knee. An MRI is the most accurate way for determining how bad you’ve injured your knee as it provides a visual for your doctor to see if the ligaments in your knee are completely torn. However, the MRI scan is not detailed enough in providing how sever a partial tear.




“An MRI has an accuracy rate of nearly 90% in determining whether and how badly a medial collateral ligament tear is.”- Cedar Senai Health System.

Torn MCL Treatment

Treating the MCL is a much easier process as opposed to a torn ACL – which almost always require surgery – because the MCL receives a good supply of blood to the injury  since it is superficial (outside the knee). This allows the MCL to heal properly without the need for surgery, which means resting and icing the knee, wearing a brace, taking pain killers like ibuprofen and doing physical therapy.

When it comes to bracing for a torn MCL, a lightweight brace that allows your knee to move back and forth, but restricts much lateral movement. Your doctor will recommend you to wear this for 3 days. Once pain and swelling have decreased, a rehab program will be planned out for your recovery process in the coming days.

After pain and swelling have gone down, you can begin your physical therapy exercises to regain your ROM and strength in your knee. Proceed slowly to prevent any further irritation if your knee is sore during these exercises. Depending on the severity, you can expect it to take between two to eight weeks to be fully recovered.

Do I need surgery for a torn MCL?

A torn MCL is rarely treated with surgery. However, if there is meniscal and ACL damage, then it is required for surgery. An MCL tear alone is not subject to surgery. If surgery is necessary for an MCL tear, you would not have arthroscopic surgery as the ligament does not sit inside the knee, but rather, on the superficial side of the interior side of your knee. If the ligament was torn from the bone, the surgeon will re-attach it to the bone by using large stitches, metal screws or bone staples. If the tear was split down the middle of the ligament, the surgeon would then sew the two ends of the mcl together.

Let’s at some key takeaways from this article:

  • The MCL is located on the inner side of your knee which is responsible for supporting lateral movements.
  • An MCL Injury normally occurs from impact from an outside force.
  • Pain, swelling, tenderness, instability are common torn mcl symptoms.
  • Grade one, two and three are how your mcl injury is diagnosed.
  • Treatment will require R.I.C.E.’ing and a brace for a duration of time.
  • Recovery time can be expected from two to eight weeks.
  • Surgery is not required for a torn MCL.

Articles you might like:

[ACL Rehab Video] Everything You Need to Know About Your Torn ACL



Cedar-Senai Health System Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Tears

ESPN Sports Injuries: MCL Tears

Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries of the Knee – Torn MCL

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