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Knee Pain

MCL Injury FAQs

Minute Read

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1 month ago

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by james

How do I know if I tore my MCL or meniscus?

MCL and meniscus injuries can both present with pain on the inside of the knee, and can both have swelling. They are also both caused by stress to the inside of the knee and can occur concurrently, so it can be difficult to differentiate between these two diagnoses. Here are the common mechanism of injury and symptoms for each injury to help differentiate.

Medial Meniscus Injury

Mechanism of injury

  • In general, meniscus tears are caused by a twist of the knee when weight bearing.

Symptoms

  • Pain along the medial joint line
  • Pain and swelling may take time to develop after an injury
  • Diffuse swelling in the joint and around the whole knee
  • General stiffness of the joint
  • Difficulty bending and straightening knee, can feel locked
  • The knee can give way

MCL Tear

Mechanism of injury

  • In general, caused by excessive inward movement of the knee, or impact to the outside of the knee.

Symptoms

  • Pain along inside of the knee, can continue above or below joint line
  • Pain and swelling can happen immediately after injury
  • Swelling is superficial and localised to the inside of the knee
  • No stiffness, unless very swollen
  • The knee can feel like it catches
  • Feeling of instability

Photo of McDavid Hinged MCL Knee Brace

Do you need a brace for a MCL sprain?

A brace can provide support by offering compression and/or limiting specific movements. If there is a feeling of instability and if there is laxity of the joint, then a brace is beneficial. Equally, if pain is reduced when wearing a brace it should be used. There is a range of braces from elasticated slip-on sleeves to rigid hinged braces. Some hinged braces are adjustable so a specific angle of knee movement can be allowed and limited. See more about our recommendations for braces in our related article: MCL Knee Brace

 

When to see doctor?

If you are in high pain or have symptoms of instability, locking or giving way then you must see a medical professional such as a sports doctor or a physical therapist. These can be symptoms of a severe injury and should not be ignored.

You will still benefit from seeing a sports doctor or physical therapist without these symptoms. If you have injured your knee, they will be able to diagnose the injury and provide you the advice and management plan to help you get the injury to heal as effectively as possible and get you back to the activities and sports that you love.

Can MCL heal itself?

The human body has a fantastic capacity to heal. A grade 1 MCL tear is likely to heal with no additional intervention, provided it is given adequate time to rest and recover. In a healthy person, this will usually take 1-3 weeks. The greater the injury and level of damage the longer the healing will take and the more interventions will aid recovery. A grade 2 or 3 tear will benefit from restriction of movement such as full extension and knee flexion over 90º as both of these positions can put more stress on the ligament and delay healing. In most cases, the healing will occur on its own, provided an environment is provided that is conducive to healing.

Diagram of MCL injury

What helps ligaments heal faster?

Rest is the best treatment for healing a ligament. In addition to rest, positioning the ligament in a short position where there is minimal tension through it will allow it to heal best. This is where the use of braces can be helpful to restrict movement and stretch on the ligament.

How do I strengthen my MCL?

Ligaments are not like muscles and do not have the ability to contact or build strength. Their strength lies in how much they can resist forces. The best way to strengthen ligaments is not to injury them in the first place. Injuries stretch ligaments and they rarely heal 100% as strong and short as pre-injury. Building good strength in the muscle around the joint is the best way to protect a ligament and prevent injury. 

How do you sleep with a torn MCL?

It is common to have difficulty finding a comfortable position to sleep in with an MCL injury. Either pressure on the inside of your knee or your knee being fully straight can be painful. Here are some tips to help you get comfortable and get a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping on your side: place a pillow between your knees to keep your knees hip-width apart and provide some cushioning from the pressure of your knees together.

Sleeping on your front: place a pillow under your ankles to keep your knees slightly bent and lessen the pressure on the front of your knee.

Sleeping on your back: place a pillow under your knees to keep your knees slightly bent and supported.

picture of two people walking in the park

Is walking good for torn ligaments?

Depending on the injury severity and the stage of recovery, walking can be good or can irritate the knee.

With mild injuries after the initial short phase of rest, walking can be done in small amounts. You should monitor your symptoms, such as pain and swelling. If there is no worsening of symptoms the time or distance can be gradually increased with caution.

For more severe injuries, a longer period of rest is needed with as little walking as possible, and often crutches are provided to help completely rest your knee. When returning to walking, a brace is advised to provide extra support and prevent movements that might stretch the repairing ligament.

Physiotherapy with James McCormack

This is not medical advice. We recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack. He offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments for £45.

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