How Do You Check for a Torn MCL?

Reviewed on 4/13/2021

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tearing causes pain on the inside of the knee, swelling, instability of the knee, difficulty bending the knee, a popping sound, and pain in other parts of the knee. A torn MCL can be checked by MRI, ultrasound, or x-ray.
Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tearing causes pain on the inside of the knee, swelling, instability of the knee, difficulty bending the knee, a popping sound, and pain in other parts of the knee. A torn MCL can be checked by MRI, ultrasound, or x-ray.

MCL stands for medial collateral ligament (also called the tibial collateral ligament), which is located on the medial aspect (or “inside”) of the knee, connecting the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). 

Symptoms of a torn MCL may include: 

  • Pain on the inside of the knee
  • Swelling over the site of the injury
  • Instability of the knee, feeling as if the knee may give out
  • Difficulty bending and straightening the affected leg
  • A popping sound when the injury occurs
  • Pain in other parts of the knee 
    • Often, when the MCL is injured, other parts of the knee may be injured as well

These symptoms can indicate a torn MCL, but the only way to be sure is to see a doctor for diagnosis. In addition to a patient history and physical examination of the knee, tests doctors use to check for a torn MCL include: 

What Causes a Torn MCL?

Tears to the MCL (medial collateral ligament) are commonly caused by:

  • Contact and collision sports such as football or hockey
  • Sports that require significant twisting and torque of the lower extremity, such as soccer, basketball, tennis, and skiing
  • A direct blow to the lateral aspect (outside) of the knee or via an indirect stress through rotation of the lower leg or pulling of the lower leg away from the midline of the body (usually causes more severe injury)
  • Indirect injury, such as a shoe catching on a playing surface (e.g., cleat catching on turf, a sneaker adhering to a court surface, an athlete catching a tip or the inside edge of a ski or skate while trying to change direction quickly

What Is the Treatment for a Torn MCL?

Treatment for a torn MCL (medial collateral ligament) may include: 

  • RICE method
    • Rest: may need to use a brace, splint, or crutches to take weight off the knee
    • Ice: helps decrease pain, swelling, and redness
      • If done immediately after the injury, it may prevent some inflammation
      • Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
      • Apply crushed ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
    • Compression: helps support the knee and prevent inflammation
      • Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
      • Do not wrap too tightly
    • Elevation: keep the injured leg propped up to help reduce fluid buildup in the injured tissue
      • Try to raise the knee above the level of the heart
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve
  • Knee brace to protect the injured ligament 
  • Crutches to help keep weight off the leg
  • Physical therapy to help restore function to the knee and strengthen the supporting leg muscles 
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections (evidence of their effectiveness is limited and conflicting)
  • Surgery
    • Most MCL injuries do not require surgery, but if torn in such a way that it cannot heal or it is associated with other ligament injuries, surgery may be needed

What Are Complications of a Torn MCL?

Complications of a torn MCL (medial collateral ligament) may include: 

  • Residual pain
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (rare)
  • Recurrence of injury 
  • Scarring and adhesions within the joint (i.e., arthrofibrosis) 

SLIDESHOW

Pictures of the 7 Riskiest Workout Moves, and How to Improve Them See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 4/13/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/medial-collateral-ligament-injury-of-the-knee?search=Torn%20MCL&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/collateral-ligament-injuries/