Medial Collateral Ligament MCL Injuries

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injury Treatment in Portland OR, Bellevue, WA, and Tempe, AZ

Injuries are a common cause of knee pain, whether caused by sports, trauma, or overuse. One knee injury that affects many athletes is a tear or strain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL). The good thing is that an MCL injury often is treatable without surgery. Reflex Knee Specialists is a team of medical providers that provides non-surgical treatments for knee injuries, including MCL tears, and other knee conditions for patients in Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. Learn more about MCL tears and injuries and how to treat them from Reflex Knee Specialists.

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What Is the Medial Collateral Ligament?

The medial collateral ligament (MCL), located on the inner side of the knee, is one of the four main ligaments that stabilizes the knee joint. It is a wide and thick band of tissue that connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). Its main function is to provide stability to the inside (medial) aspect of the knee joint.

An MCL injury can be a strain, a partial tear, or a complete tear of the ligament. These injuries typically happen when the outside (lateral) aspect of the knee joint gets hit during sports or an accident. They also can occur during abrupt movements like turning, twisting, and cutting. Although MCL injuries can be isolated, they often also happen concurrently with other injuries like tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus. MCL injuries can happen to anyone, but they are most common in athletes in sports like football, skiing, basketball, soccer, and volleyball.

Signs and Symptoms of MCL Injuries

The signs and symptoms of an MCL injury often depend on how severe it is. If the injury is a strain, it may only result in a mild discomfort over the inner (medial) aspect of the joint. A complete tear will cause more severe pain and knee instability with certain movements. In most cases, the patient can recall what event caused the MCL injury and when the onset of symptoms was first noted. Sometimes, patients hear or feel a pop when the injury occurs.

Other symptoms of an MCL injury include:

  • Pain over the inner (medial) aspect of the knee
  • Tenderness along the medial aspect of the knee
  • Knee Stiffness
  • Swelling or bruising around the knee
  • Painful walking
  • Knee instability
  • Buckling of the knee

Patients who experience a knee injury, especially one that causes a popping sound, should contact one of our knee specialists to schedule an examination. The MCL is easily seen on ultrasound, and, with dynamic testing, our providers are able to determine if there is only a strain, or if part of the ligament is torn. A physical exam of the knee can also determine the degree of joint laxity (instability), which will determine recommendations for treatment. The MCL can be checked throughout the recovery period using in-clinic ultrasound. Activity levels will be determined by how the ligament is functioning with dynamic ultrasound testing, to expedite recovery.

Grades of MCL Tears

MCL tears can be classified into one of three grades that describe the level of the tear and the likely symptoms experienced. They include:

Grades of MCL Tears

Grade 1 MCL tears are mild, with less than 10 % of the fibers in the ligament having torn. The knee is still stable, and the patient typically can still walk on their leg. Symptoms of grade 1 tears include mild pain and tenderness over the medial (inside) aspect of the joint.

Grade 2 Tears

Grade 2 tears are moderate or partial tears of the ligament. The MCL, generally the superficial area, is partially torn. This can affect the stability of the leg, causing difficulty walking. Pain, tenderness, and swelling can be more intense along the medial (inner) side of the knee.

Grade 3 Tears

Grade 3 MCL tears are severe tears where the ligament is completely torn, including both the superficial and deeper layers. The knee will feel unstable and loose, making it difficult to walk. Extreme pain and tenderness can accompany grade 3 tears, as well as tears of the ACL.

Specialists use the grade of the MCL tear to determine the most suitable treatment option.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for MCL Injuries

MCL injuries often can seem like a big setback, especially to athletes. However, the good news is that most patients with MCL tears can fully recover with non-surgical, conservative treatments. That is due to the good blood supply in the MCL, which is needed for healing to occur. Non-surgical treatments can help to reduce pain and strengthen the muscles. They include:

  • Using the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)
  • Taking medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling
  • Wearing a ligament brace, splint, or crutches to help stabilize the knee and decrease pain when moving
  • Participating in physical therapy to build strength and improve range of motion

The type and grade of the injury will determine which treatments are recommended and how long they take to work. Generally, grade 1 injuries can heal on their own within a few weeks, while grade 2 and grade 3 tears can heal in around six weeks with conservative treatment options. Non-surgical treatments usually are effective for treating MCL injuries, but surgery may be considered a treatment option for professional athletes or those with a concurrent injury such as an ACL tear.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for MCL Injuries

How common are MCL tears?

MCL tears are quite common, accounting for approximately 40% of all knee injuries. They are also the most common knee ligament injury.

How long does it take to recover from an MCL injury?

Most patients can recover from MCL injuries with conservative treatments within six to eight weeks. However, the recovery and healing time will depend on the severity and type of the injury, and the patient’s overall condition.

Can MCL tears be prevented?

Not all MCL tears are preventable, but patients can do a few things to help decrease their chances of them. Exercises that build strength in the thigh and hip muscles can help lower the risk of getting an MCL tear. Since having a previous MCL tear also increases a person’s chances of developing another one, working with a physical therapist or exercise trainer to learn proper sports techniques can help decrease the chances of another MCL injury.

When do MCL tears require surgery?

MCL tears often heal without surgery, especially in lower-grade tears. However, patients with other injuries alongside an MCL tear, like an ACL tear, often will undergo surgery to fix both problems. Another indication for surgery is if the ligament is not healing with conservative treatment. Additionally, patients who play professional sports are more likely to consider surgery as a treatment because it can help prevent future MCL injuries when they return to play.

Why Patients Choose Reflex Knee Specialists for MCL Injury Treatment

Reflex Knee Specialists is the go-to choice for patients with knee injuries and conditions because we specialize only in knees. By focusing on only the knee joint, we believe we can provide high-quality, comprehensive medical care to our patients to relieve their pain, improve their mobility, and help them get back to living a pain-free life. Some of the reasons patients choose Reflex Knee Specialists for their care include:

  • What truly sets the medical providers at Reflex Knee Specialists is that they are trained to perform knee ultrasound and can easily visualize precisely where the damage is and also determine the integrity of the MCL using live (dynamic) ultrasound testing
  • Offerings of innovative, non-surgical treatments like joint fluid therapy, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, and ozone joint therapy
  • Dedication to helping patients save money and reduce long recoveries by avoiding unnecessary surgery
  • Accessible appointments with short waiting lists
  • Friendly and knowledgeable clinical staff who are committed to providing you with an exceptional patient experience
  • Acceptance of most major insurance carriers

These are just a few reasons Reflex Knee Specialists is a trusted source for knee-focused medical care. Patients can read through our patient testimonials or frequently asked questions for more information about treatment at Reflex Knee Specialists.

Request an Appointment With a Knee Specialist Today

Although MCL injuries are common, our way of treating them at Reflex Knee Specialists is not. Our non-surgical approach to knee-specific medical care helps our patients get back to living pain-free without surgery. With offices in Portland, OR, Bellevue, WA, and Tempe, AZ, Reflex Knee Specialists helps patients access conservative and comprehensive care for knee pain and its causes, including MCL tears and other ligament injuries. For more information on MCL injury treatment, call 503-719-6783 or contact us to schedule a consultation today.

Get Medical Care for Knee Pain Today

If you’re suffering from knee pain and looking for a solution, you should reach out to the team at Reflex Knee Specialists. We treat patients of all ages using modern methods based on extensive medical research to help them get back to living life to the fullest. To schedule an appointment or learn more about supplements for knee pain, contact us today or call 503-719-6783.

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