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