What Is an MCL Tear?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2019
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The medial collateral ligament, more commonly known as the MCL, is one of four major ligaments in the knee joint. The MCL is located on the inside of the knee, and it is especially prone to injury among athletes. An MCL tear occurs when the fibers that make up the ligament tear slightly or severely, leading to pain, loss of effective mobility, and other problems with the knee joint. An MCL tear is a potentially serious condition that may require physical therapy or even surgery to repair, and a full recovery is not guaranteed.

The treatment for an MCL tear will vary according to the severity of the injury. The least severe injuries will require anywhere from two to ten weeks of recovery time, during which the person must refrain from using the knee. the RICE treatment can be applied. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. These actions will help reduce swelling and promote faster healing, thereby alleviating pain during the recovery process. An MCL tear can be quite painful, so over the counter or doctor prescribed painkillers may be necessary during the recovery period. It is likely that a period of physical therapy will be necessary once the healing process has progressed, as the ligament is likely to weaken due to the injury.


More severe instances of an MCL tear will require a more intensive treatment. Surgery may be required for MCL tear injuries that result in instability of the joint, or in cases of chronic pain as a result of the tear injury. A doctor can repair the tear with sutures, and the recovery time for such a surgery is likely to be fairly prolonged. The results may vary as well, and a person recovering from such an injury may not recover fully at all. He or she may need to consider using knee braces or other supports to prevent re-injury of the ligament, and those people will be at higher risk of re-injury regardless of precautions taken.

Athletes are the most likely segment of the population to suffer an MCL tear, particularly skiers and American football players. The regular motions of the legs during these activities lend themselves to MCL injuries more than other sports, though other athletes can certainly succumb to such an injury. People who are obese and who do not exercise regularly can also be at high risk for an MCL injury.



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