There are seven ligaments present all over and around the knee that help provide stability for the biggest joint in the body. Three of these ligaments are rarely damaged unless one of the other four is injured at the same time. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) as well as the medial collateral ligament (MCL) is prone to severe injuries. The MCL lengthens starting at the end of the thigh bone up to the top of the shin bone on the interior of your knee. Even though common in sports, most of the MCL injuries typically respond well to non-surgical treatments.
How MCL injuries occur
MCL injuries occur if an abrupt force or twisting motion is applied on the exterior of the knee, forcing the knee inward which often occurs when the foot is lodged on the field. The injury can occur together with the damage on other structures in the knee. MCL injuries such as sprains involve stretching, partial tearing or rupture of the ligament.
Who are at risk for MCL injuries?
Individuals who play contact sports or perform movements that involve abrupt changes in direction are at highest risk for MCL injuries. Sports that put individuals at high risk include hockey, skiing and football. Other sports also include soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, tennis, racquetball and badminton. Runners are not likely to sustain MCL injuries but it can happen if they misstep.
Symptoms of MCL injuries
The symptoms usually depend on the severity of the injury and categorized based on the extent of the damage. The injuries are classified as grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3.
- Pain on the interior of the knee
- Swelling and stiffness
- Tenderness to the touch
- Internal bleeding and slightly unstable joint (grade 2)
- Unstable joint and inability to put weight on the affected leg (grade 3)
Treatment for MCL injuries
As a first aid measure, you have to apply an ice pack or cold compress for 15-20 minutes at 3-4 times in a day. The affected knee must be allowed to rest until the symptoms disappear.
You can utilize an elastic bandage or wrap to compress the affected knee to reduce the swelling. Elevate the knee using a pillow or cushion when the individual sits or when sleeping at night.
For a grade 1 or mild MCL sprain, it can heal with rest and the primary first aid measures. As for the severe cases, it can take up to week or even months to fully heal. If a MCL surgery was performed, it would take months for full recovery but it is not always the treatment option even for the grade 3 tears. Additionally, it is important that the individual will use a knee sleeve or brace and use athletic shoes that can provide sturdy lateral support.
Preventing MCL injuries
Individuals who engage in sports are at risk for knee ligament injuries. Even though some MCL injuries cannot be avoided, the risk can be reduced by avoiding abrupt changes in the intensity, duration and frequency of exercise. Using athletic shoes that provide lateral support can help.