The Medial Collateral Ligament or MCL as it is often called is one of the four major ligaments that helps stabilize the knee. It is located on the inside of the knee attaching the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ligament is often injured during sports, or when the knee undergoes a twisting motion. When the ligament is damaged it is often referred to as a sprain and classified based on the degree of damage. A grade I sprain occurs when only a few fibers of the ligament( <10%) are damaged. With this degree of sprain, one can expect mild tenderness over the inside of the knee and usually minimal swelling present. Typically recovery time from this injury ranges from 1-2weeks to a month.
A grade II sprain results when more of the ligament fibers are damaged but the ligament is still intact. With this type of MCL sprain there will be pain and swelling on the inside of the knee. It is likely that one will feel instability with this injury. Treatment from a physical therapist or athletic trainer may be necessary to help with the quickest and safest recovery. Recovery time from this injury can vary between 2-6 weeks.
A grade III sprain occurs when the MCL ligament ruptures or tears completely. With this injury the patient can expect significant swelling in the knee as well as a difficulty bending the knee. Instability will be felt with walking activities, more so when on unlevel ground or when trying to change directions. The use of a knee brace will help reduce the feeling of instability during ambulation and help protect the knee from further injury. Immobilization of the knee to allow the ligament fibers to reattach and heal will be required. Treatment in rehab will be necessary for pain management, range of motion, and strengthening exercises to prepare the patient for a return to activities. Recovery time can range from 2-6 months.