Understanding the Tibial Collateral Ligament or MCL

By Steve Borkowski, Physical Therapist

Tibial Collateral Ligament: A Comprehensive Guide to Injury and Treatment

The Anatomy and Purpose of the Medial Tibial Collateral Ligament

The medial tibial collateral ligament, a critical structure in the human knee, plays an indispensable role in maintaining knee stability. This article aims to give you a clear understanding of its location and structure, its role in knee function, and how it interacts with other collateral ligaments and structures within the knee. The collateral ligament, particularly the tibial collateral ligament, is essential for normal knee movement.

Tibial Collateral Ligament or MCL

The tibial collateral ligament is also known as the medial collateral ligament (Video) or MCL.  It is a ligament located along the inside of your knee that connects the femur (thighbone) to your tibia (shinbone).  

The knee relies on ligaments, which connect bone to bone, and surrounding muscles for stability.  The primary function of the tibial collateral ligament is to provide additional stability to the knee joint itself. The MCL works to provide stability with sideways forces that can turn the knee inwards toward the other knee. 

Tibial Collateral Ligament or the MCL is one of the main knee ligaments prone to a tear. JOI Rehab

Tibial Collateral Ligament or Medial Collateral Ligament

Understanding the Causes and Risk Factors of Tibial Collateral Ligament Injuries

Tibial collateral ligament injuries can occur due to several reasons. This section explores the common causes of these injuries, the factors that increase the risk of medial tibial collateral ligament tears, and the underlying mechanism of injury. By understanding these aspects, you can take proactive steps to prevent such injuries or seek prompt medical attention if you suspect a tibial collateral ligament injury.

Direct contact from the outside of the knee, landing forcefully, rapid changes in direction while running, or a twisting motion to the knee where it turns inwards can result in a sprain or tear of the ligament. 

It is more common to sustain an injury to the inside of the knee than the outside of the knee. This is due to the overall anatomy of the knee and leg itself.

Identifying the Symptoms and Approaches to Diagnosis of a Medial Collateral Ligament of the Knee Injury

Early recognition of a medial collateral ligament of the knee tear can significantly improve treatment outcomes. Here, we discuss the signs that may indicate a ligament collateral medial tear, the diagnostic tests and imaging techniques used to confirm the diagnosis, and how to differentiate medial collateral ligament of knee tears from other knee injuries. This information can help you seek timely medical intervention for a tibial collateral ligament tear and ensure the right treatment strategy is implemented.

Symptoms of a Tibial Collateral Ligament Tear

Symptoms of an injury to the tibial collateral ligament could be the feeling of a “pop” that occurs along the inner part of your knee.  Pain to touch along the inside of your knee, or a feeling of instability with standing, walking, or pivoting and twisting where there is a feeling like your knee may give out. 

There may also be swelling present around the knee when you tear the ligament fibers.    

A swollen knee is a common symptom of a torn medial collateral ligament by JOI Rehab

Swollen Knee

How do you Diagnose a MCL tear?

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, it is strongly advised to seek further medical attention to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

However, these symptoms can be similar to other knee pain symptoms.  Further diagnostic testing and imaging may be necessary in order to determine the best form of treatment. 

Your medical doctor will perform a physical examination of your knee first.  During the examination, your doctor will perform various tests to assess the integrity of the main structures within your knee, including your MCL.

Treatment and Rehabilitation: Healing Your Medial Tibial Collateral Ligament Injury

From non-surgical approaches such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) to surgical interventions involving repair and reconstruction techniques, there are several treatment options for a medial collateral ligament of the knee injury. This section delves into these options and discusses the role of post-operative rehabilitation exercises and physical therapy in restoring knee function after a tibial collateral ligament injury. Armed with this knowledge, you can have informed discussions with your physician and choose a treatment approach that is best suited to your needs.

Depending upon the results of the physical examination, further imaging including X-rays or an MRI may be ordered.  

Depending upon the severity of the sprain or tear of the tibial collateral ligament, different treatment options may be available.  Most of these injuries will heal after a few weeks of rest, bracing and conservative care.  

ACL Knee Braces

ACL and MCL Knee Braces

Your doctor may issue you a brace to provide support for your knee and crutches to keep the weight off of your knee while it heals.  Also, you may be referred to physical therapy for continued conservative care of your knee. 

Physical Therapy for an MCL Tear

Depending upon the severity of your injury, physical therapy can also help to reduce inflammation and pain around your knee.  Therapy will improve your mobility, increase your strength, and provide further education on your condition.  The goal of therapy is to ensure you return to your prior activity level.  Strengthening of the muscles surrounding the joint will help protect the MCL and other ligaments.   Therapy will also include balance and proprioception exercises to prevent a reinjury.  It is important to go through proper return to sport or activity drills.  At JOI, we aim to provide comprehensive, accessible, and accurate information to our readers. Our goal is to help you better understand the complexities of the human body, the potential injuries it can sustain, and the treatment options available. We hope this guide to the medial collateral ligament of the knee has been informative and helpful.

To schedule for physical therapy for the MCL, please call 904-858-7045.

Related Articles: What is the recovery time for an MCL Tear?, and What is the Difference Between the Symptoms of ACL and MCL Tears?

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