1. MCL Tear Defined
The medial collateral ligaments help maintain knee stability. Injuries to it occur through overuse, misalignment, physical activities, or poor preparation before exercising. If your MCL is torn, you’ll have pain along the inside of your knee joint that increases with movement; swelling or bruising at the injury site; or a buckling sensation of your knee. MCL tears span three grades of severity, from Grade I, a partial tear with minimal symptoms, to Grade III, a full tear with pain, swelling and instability. MCL tears accompanied by a torn anterior cruciate ligament may require surgical repair.
2. Start Treating an MCL Injury Right Away
Most MCL injuries heal themselves given time, but for the first 48 to 72 hours after your injury, follow the PRICE plan: Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Anti-inflammatory agents, such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also help.
3. Rehab Recommendations
Once you’re past the acute phase of an MCL injury, start range of motion exercises that emphasize bending the knee. Strengthen the muscles around the knee, hip and ankle joints by doing quad sets, straight leg raises and hamstring curls. As your symptoms improve, add exercises to improve balance and stability. If you have a Grade I or Grade II MCL tear, you may be able to resume regular activities 1 to 4 weeks after your injury, but continue exercising at least 2 or 3 times per week, especially if you participate in high-risk sports. Weak muscles are prone to further injuries, which could lead to long-term knee damage.
If you have a Grade III MCL tear, your rehab will be more intensive and could take months. Initially, you may be on crutches and require a knee immobilizer. Your therapist will teach you range of motion exercises to do with the immobilizer removed. Eventually, you’ll be given a hinged knee brace and allowed to bear more weight. Start by swimming or exercising with a stationary bike; you can usually begin jogging once you have at least 60 percent of your quadriceps strength back. Agility training can start when you regain at least 80 percent of your strength compared to the opposite leg.
During rehab, if your knee becomes symptomatic, call your doctor.
4. Long-Term Outlook and Prevention
Preventing knee ligament tears, especially those that result from sports or other activities, is difficult. To help your knees cope, keep your weight down and strengthen the muscles around your joints by doing knee extension exercises, hamstring curls and leg presses. You need to be flexible to be strong, so stretch regularly. If you have chronic knee pain, limit your exercises to swimming, fewer repetitions or shorter periods of time. Don’t stop exercising altogether, as that, too, can have a negative effect on your knees. Finally, be sure you’re using well-fitting shoes appropriate to your activity.