I’ve discussed at length the prevalence of knee injuries in sports today – namely ACL tears during non-contact plays. But one trend that has seemingly emerged during this NFL season is knee injuries involving the MCL. What is the MCL and what function does it serve? What happens when it is injured and how are those injuries treated so that players can get safely back in the game?
The MCL is one of two Collateral Ligaments in the knee. The acronym MCL stands for Medial Collateral Ligament. It is a thick band of fibrous tissue that is located on the inside of the knee and connects the thighbone to the large bone in the lower leg. Its purpose is an important one: the MCL, along with the LCL controls the sideways motion of the knee and prevents it from bending inward.
Much like the ACL, MCL injuries often occur during swift bending or twisting motions and especially when a person makes a quick change of direction. What many people may not understand however is that an MCL sprain is actually a tear. Orthopedic specialists grade these tears on a 1-3 scale in terms of severity – with Grade 1 being mild and Grade 3 being severe. Sometimes it is easy to spot an MCL injury – there may be a direct blow to the knee or the person may feel as though something just “snapped.” But in some cases, people may not know they’ve experienced a knee injury until several hours later – when pain is extreme, swelling is present and the range of motion decreases.
For those who believe they have sustained a knee injury, proper medical treatment by a board certified orthopedic specialist is important. Treatment options will depend largely upon the nature of the injury and its severity. For most MCL injuries, rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication may be all that are required for a complete recovery. In severe cases however, surgery may be required to repair the damage – especially if it also involves the ACL or the meniscus.
Once healing is complete and the injured knee’s normal range of motion is restored, returning to sports play is usually a gradual process. This can involve light exercise which graduates to moderate and finally to a complete return to play. To ensure that healing is protected, a brace may also be suggested by the physician during sporting activities and depending on the severity of the injury.