MCL / LCL Sprain / Tear

What is a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? The medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) are two of four ligaments in the knee that provide stability to the knee joint, along with the ACL and PCL. The MCL is located on the inner side of the knee and the LCL is located on the outer side and these two ligaments work to control the side to side stability of the knee joint. When the MCL or LCL is injured, it can result in a sprain, partial tear or full tear, depending on the severity.

What causes a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? MCL and LCL sprains and tears occur most often from direct impact to the side of the knee, often as a result of contact sports. MCL injuries occur from an impact to the outer side of the knee, while LCL injuries are more likely from a trauma to the inner side of the knee. MCL injuries are more common than LCL injuries, and are more likely to occur along with meniscus tears, since the MCL is connected to the lateral meniscus. LCL injuries may occur along with ACL or PCL tears, however.

What are the symptoms of a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? Symptoms of MCL and LCL sprains and tears will vary by the severity of the injury and whether the injury occurs to the MCL or LCL ligament. There is usually mild or moderate swelling near the ligament, but in some cases, no swelling is apparent. The severity of pain will vary based on the severity of the tear and may be minimal or severe. Bruising may also be apparent a couple of days following the injury. There may be tenderness on the outside of the knee with an LCL injury. When the injury occurs, there may be a “popping” sound, or the knee may give out and there may be laxity and instability in the joint. In some cases, the knee cannot be bent sideways past a certain point.

How is a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear diagnosed? A medical professional can diagnose an MCL or LCL injury following a physical assessment of a patient’s knee and a history of what happened when the injury occurred. A manual test, known as the varus knee test, will be performed in which the doctor will apply force to the inner knee joint to compare its laxity compared to the healthy knee. In some cases, x-rays or an MRI may be needed to determine the severity of the injury and whether other ligaments or cartilage are damaged as well.

When should I seek care for a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? After injuring your knee, you should rest it, apply ice, and elevate it. If after a course of rest you still feel pain and instability, or if the pain and instability is severe or worsens, you should seek medical advice. There are many possible causes of knee pain and knowing the cause of the injury helps to determine the best course of treatment, lowering the possibility of increased injury or re-injury. If your knee is very unstable, continues to give out, or cannot easily be moved, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

What will the treatment for a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear consist of? The first course of treatment for most MCL/LCL sprains and tears is to rest the injury, as well as to apply ice and elevate the leg. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may help to ease pain and swelling. Minor injuries should require no further treatment other than rest. More severe injuries may require rehabilitation following a course of rest in order to strengthen the muscles surrounding the injured ligaments. This may include manual therapy, massage, ultrasound, laser treatments, and physical therapy exercises. Surgery is more likely in LCL injuries than MCL injuries, since the ligament does not heal as easily, and surgery for MCL injuries is rare. For those injuries requiring surgery, rehabilitation is needed to increase strength and flexibility. In some cases, a brace will need to be worn to keep the knee joint stable and to prevent further re-injury.

Which muscle groups/ joints are commonly affected from a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? The medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) are two of four ligaments located in the knee joint. They are positioned on each side of the knee.

What type of results should I expect from the treatment of a MCL/LCL Sprain/Tear? In most cases, a period of rest followed by some rehabilitation will be successful in strengthening and stabilizing the knee joint. For minor sprains and partial tears, it may only take a week or two of rest before normal activity may be resumed. Moderate injuries may take 3 -4 weeks to heal and more severe injuries may take 6 weeks or more. When surgery is necessary, it may take months of recovery and rehabilitation before a return to sports and usual activity levels can be fully resumed. Wearing a knee brace helps to add stability to the knee joint even after recovery is achieved.