Tibial Collateral Ligament or MCL

By Steve Borkowski, Physical Therapist

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. 

ACL Ligaments

Ligaments of the Knee

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 due to the overall anatomy of the knee and leg itself.

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.    

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.

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

How do You Treat a Tibial Collateral Ligament Tear?

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.  Immediately following sustaining an injury to the knee, it may be advised to follow the acronym PRICE which stands for Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. 

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. 

In the unlikely event of a more significant tear of your MCL, where the knee becomes unstable and will not heal itself, surgery may be indicated at that time.   To make an appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Knee  Doctor, call (904) JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. 

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