What are the Symptoms of a Medial Collateral Ligament Sprain?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
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The symptoms of a medial collateral ligament sprain, sometimes known as an MCL strain, vary depending on the severity of the injury. Swelling, pain over the inside of the knee, and tenderness are some of the most common. A person with a medial collateral ligament strain may also notice instability of the knee joint. An MCL sprain is usually graded as either a level one, two, or three injury in order of severity.

Knee injuries are common among athletes, especially if large rotational forces are put through the joint. The medial collateral ligament is found on the inner side of the knee and helps to support the joint. Its primary function is to keep the two sides of the joint together when force is applied. A sprain to this ligament can cause significant problems.

A grade one medial collateral ligament sprain involves less than 10% of the ligament’s fibers and therefore has the least noticeable symptoms. Sometimes an athlete may be unaware that he or she has a grade one MCL sprain. Symptoms include mild pain in the area of the ligament, usually without any swelling, and pain when the joint is put under stress.


Grade 2 medial collateral ligament sprains are more serious and often involve more painful symptoms. The area around the ligament will be much more painful to touch than a grade one sprain, and there will usually be noticeable swelling. As with a grade one MCL sprain, there will be pain when the joint is stressed. Due to the ligament on the inner side of the knee becoming stretched, the knee may also be less stable than it should be.

The most severe medial collateral ligament sprain is when there is a complete tear of the ligament. This is known as a grade three strain. Despite the ligament becoming ruptured, the pain may not be as bad as a grade two sprain. Symptoms of a grade three medial collateral ligament sprain include tenderness and a lack of stability in the joint. A person with a grade three strain will often find that his or her knee feels very wobbly and unsupported.

Identifying the symptoms of a MCL sprain can sometimes be difficult, especially if there appears to be only a minor injury. For this reason, an athlete should get a professional diagnosis if he or she suspects a sprain. As with most injuries, initial treatment involves rest, compression, and icing the area, but ongoing treatment and rehabilitation is required for a full recovery.



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