MCL Tear

An MCL tear is where the medial collateral ligament on the inner side of the knee gets overstretched and damaged.

It is most commonly caused by a sudden twisting force through the knee, which damages some or all the fibres of the ligament. It can lead to swelling, pain and instability.

Here we will look at what causes MCL tears, the different grades of ligament injuries and their symptoms, treatment options, and what you can do to prevent long term problems after an MCL injury.

Causes of an MCL Injury

Knee ligament injuries are common, especially a tear to the Medial Collateral Ligament. The MCL is one of four ligaments that helps stabilise the knee and is found on the inner side of the knee joining the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone).

Diagram of the knee ligaments showing a complete MCL tear (medial collateral ligament)

Its job is to hold the tibia and femur bones together and limit the sideways widening of the gap between them.

An MCL injury usually occurs when there is a force through the outer side of a bent knee, e.g. a tackle hitting the outer side of the knee. This pushes the bones apart on the inside of the knee which overstretches the ligament causing an MCL tear.

Grades of MCL Injury

MCL tears can be classified into three grades, each varying in severity. Here you will find information on how MCL tears are classified and the symptoms, treatment options and recovery time for each:

Grade 1 MCL Tear

1) What is it: A few of the fibres (less than 10%) are damaged

2) Symptoms: It is usually tender on the inner side of the knee especially when any pressure is put through the region and bruising/swelling may develop over the first couple of days

3) Treatment: PRICE - protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Click the link to find out how to use it safely and effectively

4) Recovery: A grade 1 MCL injury usually heals itself within a couple of weeks

MCL tears usually occur when there is a force through the knee eg a sporting tackle

Grade 2 MCL Tear

1) What is it: Many fibres are damaged but the ligament is still intact

2) Symptoms: There may be medial knee pain with a moderate amount of swelling and bruising (which appear in the first 48 hours), and the knee may feel slightly unstable

3) Treatment: PRICE first. May also benefit from tubigrip or a hinged knee brace in the short term if the knee is giving way to help provide stability and prevent further injury. Ultrasound treatment and deep tissue friction massage can also help reduce pain and speed up healing from an MCL injury. This is usually carried out by a physical therapist or sports therapist

4) Recovery: Symptoms normally settle down within 4-6 weeks

Grade 3 MCL Tear

1) What is it: This is when the ligament ruptures i.e.tears completely

2) Symptoms: There will be significant swelling and it is often difficult to bend the knee although it is sometimes less painful than a grade 2 sprain. The knee will likely feel unstable and may give way

Knee braces can be a really useful tool when recovering from MCL tears as they help provide support and stability

3) Treatment: A knee brace can be really helpful if the knee is feeling unstable.  People usually find an advanced or elite knee brace most helpful as they help prevent any sideways movement at the knee. Your doctor may advise you to get one that prevents bending or straightening of the knee, depending on the severity of the injury. Braces are a great way to reduce pain and instability, improve function and prevent further MCL injury.

Exercises should be done to help to increase movement, strength and circulation, all of which will lead to a quicker, fuller recovery. If you are wearing a brace, it should be removed several times a day to carryout exercises to ensure the knee does not get stiff. Crutches may be needed in the short term to keep weight off the knee when walking around. The crutches can stop being used once you can walk without a limp.

4) Recovery: Symptoms often take 6-8 weeks to settle and it can take 3-4 months to fully recover from a grade 3 MCL tear. Recovery will be quicker if you keep up with your exercises. A combination of strengthening and movement exercises should be done daily - see the knee exercises section for suitable exercises.

Remember, always consult your doctor or a rehab therapist after any injury to ensure the most effective course of action for you.

How to Avoid Long Term Problems

An MCL injury can have a long lasting impact on the stability of the knee therefore affecting balance and function (e.g. running on uneven ground and quickly changing direction) so it is important to rehab properly.

You may want to see a therapist for a rehab programme or try these exercises that you can do at home. But don’t worry, with proper rehabilitation, most people make a full recovery from all grades of MCL tear.

As some of the fibres of the MCL connect to the medial meniscus, in more serious injury this is often damage too - see the Meniscus Tear section for more information.

Not Sounding Like Your Knee Pain?

If you didn't twist your knee or don't have pain on the inner side of your knee, it is unlikely you have an MCL tear. If your knee pain was caused by a specific incident such as a fall, visit the Common Knee Injuries section. If your knee pain has come on gradually over time, go to the Common Knee Conditions section.

If you would like help working out what is wrong with your knee, visit the knee pain diagnosis section.

Go to Common Knee Injuries or Homepage


Your Comments

Share your knee pain experiences with others, whether it be ideas, top tips, things that worked well for you, problems you've had etc.......

All the info you need, in our new book
Find out more

Read Reviews/ Buy Now

$3.99/£2.99




See Also

Other common injuries

Knee Braces: Would they help?

How can I strengthen my leg?

Test your flexibility - would stretching help you?


Search This Site


Visitor Comments

“This is one of the best self-help & info sites of any medical condition I've ever seen. Excellent work.” Amy, UK

"Your site and exercises have been a lifesaver! The explanations are so clear.  Thanks for your help and excellent work."  Claire, US

"I'm an RN. This is really useful, easy to understand info."
Jan, US

“Thanks to KPE.com. Lots of improvement after just two days.” Suresh, India

"This is the best self-help site I have ever seen for knee pain. It is very difficult to find such a comprehensive volume of information on one site without being advised to "Just purchase this product!" Many, many thanks" Jennifer, US

"Superb site, many thanks, so much helpful content especially the targeted strengthening exercises for me.” Gerri, UK

“Thank you so much, your response makes so much sense. Thank you again for your time in answering my questions.” Cynthia, US

"Your website is a gold mine, thank you very much."
Gavril, Denmark

"Thank you for this website and all the information, especially the videos. I suffer from knee stiffness and pain when standing and now I have some exercises I can do - thanks to you." Claire, US

"I LOVE your website. Out of all the others, yours is so informational and easy to read." Michelle, US

"This is the best site dealing with knee problems that I have come across. I will be putting the stretches and exercises into practise. Thank you!"
Margaret, S. Africa

"The information given by you is fabulous. Thank you." Nihal, India

"Your site is excellent! It covers everything you need to know about knee pain and it's treatment in an easy to understand format. Thanks!" Linda, US

"Brilliant website - highly recommended! And as nurse (25yrs exp) its written expertly and is very explanatory and easy to understand. Thank you!" Jo, UK