Preventing Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tears are common injuries to the knee that a lot of athletes and active people suffer from. While these injuries aren’t rare, not many people know about the MCL or anything regarding injuries to the area. The MCL is a band in the inner part of the knee that runs from the femur down toward the tibia. It’s there to stop you from over-extending your leg on the inner side and to stabilize your knee while allowing it to rotate.


Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

MCL tears occur when a strong force hits the outside of your knee causing the MCL and sometimes other ligaments near the MCL to overstretch or tear. This usually happens while playing a sport like football where collisions are common and there are a lot of pivoting movements. Basketball, soccer, and winter sports where you can slip easily are also common causes of MCL tears. However, people who put too much stress on their knees can also suffer from this injury.

The symptoms of an MCL tear start with tenderness or pain in the area followed by swelling and stiffness in the inside part of your knee. Depending on how extreme the tear is your pain can be anywhere from mild to quite severe. If other ligaments are damaged along with the MCL your pain will be worse. Upon trying to stand or walk, your knee will also feel unsteady or may lock up when you try to bend it.

In order to know whether or not you have an MCL tear, you’ll need to be diagnosed by a doctor. When you see one they’ll ask you how the injury occurred, what it feels like, and if you’ve had prior knee problems. They’ll also examine your knee by putting pressure on the outside of your injured knee when it is straight and again while it’s bent. A doctor will also do x-rays and an MRI to assess how severe the tear is. After that, the grade of the tear will be determined. There are three grades your MCL tear can fall under:

  • Grade 1: some tenderness and slight pain
  • Grade 2: noticeable looseness in the joint, severe pain, possible swelling
  • Grade 3: some noticeable swelling, joint instability, severe pain. Usually involves tears to other ligaments in the knee.

The initial treatment will be to manage your pain as well as the inflammation around the knee. Your knee will be immobilized in order to keep it stable. It usually takes about six weeks for a grade 3 MCL tear to heal properly when it’s properly treated. Grade 1 or grade 2 tears can take anywhere from a week to four weeks to heal.

As you heal you’ll need to rest, keep ice on the knee, and keep it elevated to avoid strain and swelling. You may also take pain relievers to deal with the pain. As you improve, your doctor might put a brace on your knee that will allow it to move forward and backward but not left and right. In rare cases, you might require surgery to repair the MCL tear but this is usually not necessary.

Once your swelling goes down and the pain subsides, you’ll more than likely have to go through physical therapy. There, you’ll have to do certain exercises that will help you gain strength back as well as a full range of motion. You might have to take this process slowly as you don’t want to reinjure the area or cause unnecessary irritation.

Avoiding MCL Tears

If you’re an athlete or an active person you might be worried about MCL tears. While you can’t know if the next game you play will have you getting hit in the leg, there are things that you can do that will help you lower your chances of getting hurt.

Freak injuries aren’t preventable as these happen unexpectedly, but balance exercises, strength training, and power exercises can help strengthen your knees. When your knees are stronger, you can take on more pressure or strain so you won’t be injured as easily.

The best way to prevent any type of injury is to avoid exertion when you’re tired. When you feel fatigued, you’re more prone to small mistakes or missteps because you’re not fully focused on what you’re doing. This lack of attention can lead to injuries. If you feel like you’re not 100 percent engaged in what you’re doing, stop and rest.

You should also make sure that you’re wearing the right shoes whenever you’re playing a sport or working out. If you wear cleats, make sure that they aren’t worn down. If you wear normal sneakers, make sure that they’re the right ones for your sport and that the soles aren’t worn out. For example, for basketball, your sneakers should give you the right lateral support.

There are also specific exercises that you can do to properly strengthen your knee and prepare it for the quick movements that it’ll be doing during your normal activities. Lateral squats, knee hugs, and backward and forward lunges are all great and simple exercises that you can do to strengthen your knees.

You can also do different balance and agility drills as well as stretching and flexibility exercises to keep your knees limber and strong. All of these exercises will get your knee used to moving in certain ways so that if you do take a hit to the outside of your knee, the MCL and surrounding ligaments will be stronger than they were before and less prone to tearing.

Strengthening your hips and thighs is actually what will protect your knees so focus on those areas, too. Here are a few useful exercises that will help protect your knees from injury. Perform up to three sets of each exercise with 10 repetitions in each set. These should be done three days a week for the best results.

  • Hamstring Curls: Put on light ankle weights and lie flat on your stomach. Bend your knee and then straighten it again back to the floor slowly. Do this on both sides.
  • One-Legged Wall Slides: Start by standing on one leg against a wall making sure your standing foot is six inches from the wall. Begin to slide your body down the wall as you bend your knee at a 45-degree angle making sure to keep your knee even with your toes. Return to your standing position and switch legs.
  • Side Step-Ups: Find a three- to eight-inch step and stand next to it (not face on). While holding a medium-heavy weight dumbbell, step up onto the step (remaining sideways). Keep your knee in line with your toes throughout the process. As you step up, straighten your knee then bend it slowly as you step down. Turn around and repeat the process on the other side. 
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    Inner Thigh Lifts: You’ll need a ball for this exercise. Lie down on your side with your hips stacked. Take your top leg and rest in front of you on top of the ball. As your top leg balances on the ball, life the other leg up and down. Turn over and repeat the exercise on your other side. 


Medial collateral ligament tears are common and do take some time to recover from but they don’t have to be the end of your active life. By understanding how they occur and taking the proper steps to strengthen and protect your body, you can lower your chances of suffering from an MCL tear. Do the proper exercises to strengthen yourself and always listen to your body so you won’t get hurt. If you believe you’ve already suffered from an MCL tear, see your doctor and begin the proper treatment to get back on your feet.

Anna Smith

Hi there ! I’m Anna Smith, chief editor at Healthankering. I'm a proud mother of three passionate about health tips, beauty and ways to live healthier with more energy ! We start Healthankering to provide advanced material about not only the best ways to get healthy, but also to entertain and create a great community. Welcome aboard !

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