MCL Anatomy

What is the MCL ?

The Medial Collateral ligament, or MCL, is a strong band of tissue on the inside of the knee, connecting the thigh and leg bones together.  It is located outside the knee joint itself, rather, along side it.  The medial collateral ligament protects the knee when an athlete, for example, is hit on the knee from the outside.

How is it injured ?

The mechanism of injury is usually when an athlete is hit on the outside of the knee, or the ankle is forced outward.  This will cause the ligament to tear. The tear can be of varying severity:  From a complete tear with an unstable knee, to a partial tear.  The severity of the injury will impact how long it takes to recover and get back to sports.  Athletes complain of pain on the inside of the knee along the joint line, or just above it.

How it is treated ?

Almost all MCL injuries are treated without surgery.  This is unlike the ACL because of the ligament’s location outside the joint itself – only one tissue layer away.  there is something special about ligament injuries inside the joint – the fluid environment makes it difficult to heal, and hence the need for ACL tears to be treated with surgery.  Dr. Hacker participated in the lab where landmark research confirmed that the MCL can heal on its own without surgery.

Nonoperative treatment may or may not start with a knee brace to protect the ligament, followed by a functional rehabilitation program slowly adding activities that depend on the MCL. The brace prevents side to side motion of the knee.

Seeing a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon is important to completely rule out or in other ligament or knee injuries that often occur along with a tear of the MCL.

Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team.  He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.

If you have questions about MCL tears, or have an MCL tear, please feel free to contact me at Ask Dr. Hacker or through my office.

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