The medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the inner side of the knee is most often torn when there is a force that strikes the outside of the knee. The MCL attempts to resist widening of the joint and tears if the force is too great. When this happens, you face a recovery time of weeks to months, depending on the grade of the MCL tear.
Fortunately, most often surgery is not necessary for the treatment of an MCL tear. In some specific circumstances, surgery may be recommended. Most often, surgery is used for the treatment of the most severe MCL injuries.
Treatment of Grade I MCL Tears
Grade I tears of the MCL usually resolve completely within a few weeks.
Treatment consists of:
- Resting From Activity: This means you won’t be playing the sport where you sustained the injury while you recover.
- Icing the Injury: Learn how to ice correctly
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications
- Knee Exercises: See which exercises are used for MCL tear recovery.
Most patients with a grade I MCL tear will be able to return to sports within one or two weeks following their injury.
Treatment of Grade II MCL Tears
When a grade II MCL injury occurs, the use of a hinged knee brace is common in early treatment. The hinged knee brace will allow you to bend the knee, but provide support to the injured ligament.
Otherwise, the treatment principles are the same as those for patients with a grade I MCL tear. Athletes with a grade II injury can return to activity once they are not having pain directly over the MCL or symptoms of instability.
Patients with a grade II injury often return to sports within three or four weeks after their injury.
Treatment of Grade III MCL Tears
When a grade III MCL tear occurs, patients should brace their knee and use crutches until the pain has subsided. The knee can be immobilized for a few days initially, but early range-of-motion will help in the healing process.
Once the patient can begin bending their knee, early range-of-motion exercises should commence, including stationary bicycling. Normal walking and progression to jogging can begin as pain allows. Use of a hinged knee brace is usually very helpful to support the knee, especially in the earlier stages of rehab.
Most athletes return to sports about three months after a grade III MCL tear.
Surgery for MCL Tears
Surgery for MCL tears is controversial. There are many studies that document successful nonsurgical treatment in nearly all types of MCL injuries.8 Most surgeons agree that for patients who complain of persistent knee instability, despite appropriate nonsurgical treatment, surgery is reasonable.