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What is a Medial Collateral Ligament Injury?

The medial collateral ligament is a band of tissue found along the inside edge of the knee that connects upper and lower leg bones. Along with three other major structures, the ligament provides stability and shock absorption for the knee. A medial collateral ligament injury can occur when excessive pressure is placed on the outside of the knee, forcing it to bend backward and toward the other leg. Such injuries are common in impact sports, but they can also occur with a bad fall or another major accident. A person who has knee pain, swelling, and a limited range of motion should visit a doctor to determine the severity of the injury and learn about different treatment options.

The knee is a highly susceptible joint to ligament damage, and a medial collateral ligament injury is the most common type. Any activity that requires a person to run, jump, stop, turn, and bend can result in a ligament injury. Athletes who play football and other contact sports are at an especially high risk of knee injuries because their legs can twist awkwardly during a tackle or dive. Since cartilage and ligament tissue can erode with age, elderly people are also at an increased risk even with minor falls or trauma.

A medial collateral ligament injury can result in a strain or tear. When the ligament is strained, a person may not notice right away. The knee might feel sore and begin to swell a few hours after the injury. In most cases, the knee is still mobile, but it may hurt to run or put too much pressure on the joint.

If the ligament is torn, it may make an audible popping noise and cause immediate pain. Swelling, loss of mobility, and weakness make it impossible to bear weight. An individual who suffers a ligament tear should be kept immobilized to prevent further injury until professional medical care is available.

A doctor can determine the severity of a medial collateral ligament injury by taking imaging scans of the joint and evaluating physical symptoms. If the ligament is strained, the patient is typically advised to rest, ice, and elevate the knee as frequently as possible for about two weeks. Prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers may be provided to further ease symptoms. In the event of a tear, the patient may be given a corticosteroid injection to relieve swelling, fitted with a protective cast or brace, or scheduled for reconstructive surgery.

It is important to follow a doctor's instructions during the recovery phase after a medial collateral ligament injury. Regular checkups can help the physician determine when it is safe to return to activity. Performing light stretches and guided exercises can help rebuild strength and flexibility, and wearing a brace during activity can lower the risk of re-injuring the joint. Most people are able to overcome their injuries and return to their favorite activities within a few months.

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