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Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury of the knee

Definition

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury is an injury to the ligament on the inner part of the knee. This ligament keeps your shin bone (tibia) in place.

It can be a stretch, partial tear, or complete tear of the ligament.

Alternative Names

Knee injury - medial collateral ligament (MCL); MCL injury

Considerations

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) goes from the inside surface of the upper shin bone to the inner surface of the bottom thigh bone.

The ligament helps keep the inside portion of the knee joint stable.

Causes

The MCL is usually injured by pressure or stress on the outside part of the knee. A block to the outside part of the knee during football is a common way for this ligament to be injured.

It is often injured at the same time as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury occurs.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a tear in the medial collateral ligament are:

  • Knee swelling
  • Locking or catching of the knee with movement
  • Pain and tenderness along the inside of the joint
  • The knee gives way or feels like it is going to give way when it is active or stressed in a certain way

First Aid

The health care provider will examine your knee. An MCL test will be done to detect looseness of the ligament. This test involves bending the knee to 25 degrees and putting pressure on the outside surface of the knee.

Other tests may include:

Treatment includes:

  • Applying ice to the area
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Raising the knee above heart level

You should limit physical activity until the pain and swelling go away.

The health care provider may put you on crutches and in a brace to protect the ligament. You may also be told not to put any weight on your knee when you walk.

After a period of keeping the knee still, you will be taught exercises to strengthen and stretch the knee. Physical therapy may help you regain knee and leg strength.

Surgery is often not needed when only the MCL has been torn.

If you need surgery, it will be done using arthroscopy, through a small surgical cut.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of MCL injury
  • You are being treated for MCL injury and you notice increased instability in your knee, pain or swelling after they initially faded, or your injury does not get better with time
  • You re-injure your knee

Prevention

Use proper techniques when playing sports or exercising. Many cases are not preventable.

References

De Carlo M, Armstrong B. Rehabilitation of the knee following sports injury. Clin Sports Med. 2010; 29:81-106.

Singhal M, Patel J, Johnson D. Medical ligament injuries: 1. Medical collateral ligament injuries in adults. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Dree's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2009:chap 23;sect C.


Review Date: 6/13/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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