What Is It?
Ligaments are tough, non-stretchable fibers that hold your bones together. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) connects the top of the tibia (shinbone) to the bottom of the femur (thighbone). It is located on the inner aspect of your knee and adds stability and strength to the joint.
MCL injuries have 3 grades:
• Grade I- less severe, ligament is stretched, but not torn
• Grade II- ligament is partially torn which causes some instability in the knee
• Grade III- more severe, ligament is completely torn In order to properly diagnose your doctor may order an x-ray or an MRI to confirm results seen in the physical examination.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment for an MCL injury depends on the grade of the tear. Immediately, applying ice, elevating the knee and taking and anti-inflammatory will help to reduce swelling and ease pain. Compression and rest are also beneficial.
Grade I tears usually resolve within a few weeks of injury. Treatment includes resting from activity, icing, taking anti-inflammatory medications and performing basic knee exercises to maintain your range of motion and strength. You may be sent to physical therapy to learn exercises you can do at home. Most patients with a grade I MCL tear will be able to return to sports within one or two weeks following their injury.
For grade II injuries, you will most likely need to wear a hinged knee brace for a specified period of time. Treatment will be similar to that of a grade I tear, but will involve a greater period of rest to allow for healing. Athletes with a grade II injury can return to activity once pain and instability have subsided. Patients are typically able to return to sports within four to six weeks.
For grade III MCL tears, patients will be placed in a hinged knee brace and use crutches until pain has subsided. The knee may be immobilized for a few days, but early range of motion will help with the healing process. Range of motion exercises may include stationary biking and heel slides. Progression off crutches will begin as pain allows. Most patients are able to return to their prior activities about three months after a grade III injury.
Surgery to treat an MCL tear is rare, but may be necessary if the ligament is torn in such a way that it cannot repair itself.
Rehabilitation Plan - Exercises
Rehabilitation will focus on recovering strength to the knee and preventing future injury. Physical therapy will be ordered to provide exercises that will strengthen muscles that support the knee and improve range of motion in the knee joint.