MCL Injuries

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Most medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries are a result of contact sports—basketball, soccer, football, but they can also occur as a result of snowboarding and skiing accidents. It’s easy to understand why high-impact sports injuries occur, considering the MCL band runs along the inside of the knee joint, and connects the thigh bone and shin bone. When the MCL is impacted by force, the integrity of the knee joint is compromised. This causes the knee to bend unnaturally inward. Thankfully, there are effective approaches to help successfully address MCL injuries.

As elite-grade specialists in orthopedics, OrthoAspen helps patients who’ve experienced MCL injuries to find a treatment solution that will safely return them to the sport or activity they love most.

Causes & Symptoms

Since the MCL is responsible for stabilizing the knee joint, it may not be surprising to learn that MCL tears comprise 7.9% of all knee-ligament injuries. Again, MCL injuries are largely related to high-impact sports that apply pressure and stress to the outside of the knee.

When an MCL injury occurs, an individual may experience one of the following symptoms:

MCL sprain:

  • Tenderness and pain in the inner side of the knee
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Stiffness of the knee
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bleeding and inflow of fluid into the joint

MCL tear:

  • Popping sound at the time of injury
  • Knee pain
  • Swelling
  • Locking or catching sensation in the knee during movement
  • Feeling like the knee may ‘give out’ suddenly or buckle

Typically, MCL injuries are diagnosed in three levels:

  • First-degree Sprain
    Although the ligament has been injured, it’s still intact with no presence of a significant tear.
  • Second-degree Sprain
    The ligament is intact, but some ligament fibers have been compromised.
  • Third-degree Sprain/Tear
    The ligament has been compromised, experiencing a full tear.

To determine the extent of MCL injuries, your OrthoAspen physician will go over any potential symptoms, perform a full physical exam and evaluate range-of-motion in the knee. Additionally, your doctor may take X-rays or an MRI scan to better evaluate the damage to the soft tissues and integrity of the knee.


While OrthoAspen offers a wide and comprehensive range of orthopedic care options and services, we strive to find conservative treatment solutions whenever possible.

Depending on whether an MCL sprain or tear has occurred, MCL treatment may include:

  • Rest
  • Ice (applied 10 to 20 minutes once every one to two hours to reduce swelling as needed)
  • Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling
  • Crutches and braces to support, protect and limit knee movement

Additional healing steps include rehabilitation, physical therapy procedures and exercises focused on regaining knee range-of-motion, muscle control and strength and reduction of swelling.

Surgery is rarely required. If your OrthoAspen surgeon feels that surgical intervention is required he/she will usually suggest arthroscopy.


What about MCL injuries in children?

Occasionally, our OrthoAspen team receives an inquiry about MCL injuries in children. While MCL injuries are less common in children, teenage athletes who participate in sports, such as football and ice hockey are more susceptible to this type of knee injury. If treatment is required for a child’s MCL injury, OrthoAspen specialists help parents navigate the experience from beginning to end, including full recovery.

If you’re concerned that you may have experienced an MCL injury, or if you’d like to set up a consultation with one of our OrthoAspen experts, contact us any time at 970-544-1289.


Visit OrthoAspen in two convenient locations
Aspen Clinic
Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Rd., Suite 2100,

Aspen, CO 81611
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400
Basalt Clinic
Midvalley Medical Center
1450 E. Valley Rd., Suite 201,

Basalt, CO 81621
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400