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A MCL injury is a tear or sprain to the band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the lower leg bone and is located inside the knee. Damage to this ligament causes instability, pain and swelling. They are usually not caused by day-to-day activities because it takes a vigorous blow, twist or bend to cause a MCL injury - similar to something that might be experienced during a contact sport or during a collision in skiing, for example.

Due to the nature of the injury, it is likely that you will suffer an injury to the lateral collateral ligament also.

Measuring an MCL Injury

MCL damage is measured by three grades:

  • Grade 1 - This is where the ligament has been slightly overstretched and you are likely to feel soreness, pain and swelling.
  • Grade 2 - This is where the ligament has stretched so far it has become loose. Again pain, swelling and discomfort will be felt, but there may also be some loss of function and some instability in the joint.
  • Grade 3 - This refers to a complete tear of the ligament, which leaves the knee joint incapable of supporting your weight.
MCL damage is measured by three grades

Symptoms of an MCL Injury

If you’ve been in an accident and are feeling pain on the inside of your knee or fear there has been some loss of function in the joint, then you should visit your GP. They will usually be able to diagnose whether you have an MCL injury from a simple examination. However, your doctor may refer you for an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan if they can’t identify the injury or think there might be further complications.

Treatment

Immediately after the accident, cold packs or ice wrapped in a towel can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation. You should keep this on for 15 minutes and then take away for one hour before reapplying.

After visiting your GP, it might be recommended to get a brace to offer a layer of protection and support to the knee. A brace can mean someone with a grade 1 MCL injury can walk unaided while someone with a grade 2 or 3 injury may require crutches to help with moving about.

Your doctor will likely assign you to a physiotherapist who will recommend a programme of exercises to strengthen the knee and keep it flexible.

Occasionally, a MCL injury will require surgery. Examples of when this might be necessary include when an injury cannot heal naturally or when an injury doesn’t respond to treatment. The procedure is relatively straightforward and involves the ligament being reattached to the bone using stitches, bone staples, medical screws or a suture anchor.

How long will it take to recover?

If you’ve had a simple MCL injury, then recovery is usually pretty straightforward with grade 1 injuries taking approximately two weeks to heal and grade 2 injuries taking around a month. Grade 3 injuries usually take a little longer - up to eight weeks - while those that require surgery may take up to three months to make a full recovery.

To ensure a full recovery, it is important you follow any instruction given to you by a medical professional and do not take part in any activities that could cause a relapse.

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