Torn MCL Recovery Time

Knee Anatomy MCL JOIKnee Anatomy of the MCL

By: Jared Ernest, PT

Introduction:  Torn MCL Recovery Time

A common orthopedic question, a physical therapist hears a lot is, “how long will it take for my torn MCL to heal?”. This article will answer what the torn MCL recovery time is and why the torn MCL recovery time is:

  • Grade 1: 1-2 weeks
  • Grade 2: 2-4 weeks
  • Grade 3: 4-8 weeks

Anatomy of a torn MCL 

So first, “what is the MCL”. The MCL is the medial collateral ligament located on the medial side of the knee or the side of the knee that is closest to the middle of the body. The MCL is a ligament that connects your femur, the top bone of the knee joint, to the tibia, the bottom medial bone the knee joint. The MCL teams up with the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) which is located on the lateral side of the knee or side furthest from the center of the body. The LCL connects the femur to the fibula, the bottom lateral bone of the knee joint. So, what is the function of the MCL?  If you would like to learn more about the MCL anatomy, please watch this Knee Anatomy Video.

Function of the MCL

The purpose or the function of the MCL is to work with the LCL to protect the knee from shifting too far sideways in either direction. The MCL, itself primarily protects the knee from buckling inward as if one were knocked kneed. If the knee shifts too far inward it could damage the MCL resulting in an MCL sprain or tear. So if one does experience a MCL tear, “what is the torn MCL recovery time?”.

What is the Recovery Time for an MCL?

The times for a torn MCL recovery time are not exact, they differ for everyone, but the quick answer is the collective research shows the following are the average times for a torn MCL.

The torn MCL recovery time is:

  • Grade 1: 1-2 weeks
  • Grade 2: 2-4 weeks
  • Grade 3: 4-8 weeks

Grading Categories of MCL Injuries

It is important to understand there are three types or grades of MCL injuries. Another important note is one may see the word MCL sprains in their search for torn MCL recovery time. MCL sprain is synonymous with MCL tear. Technically an MCL tear is a more severe version of MCL sprain. Let me explain.

The three types/grades of MCL injuries are as follows:

Type 1 or Grade 1 sprain: is a sprain, the MCL has been stretched, but still able to function to help keep the knee stable. (1 week to 2 weeks)

Type 2 or Grade 2 sprain: is where the MCL has been stretched to a point where the ligament is considered loose causing a decrease in knee stability, also considered a partial tear. (2-4 Weeks)

Type 3 or Grade 3 sprain: is where the MCL has been stretch so far it has been torn into two pieces, also considered a full tear, the ligament can no longer perform its job of preventing medial/inward motion of the knee. (4-8 weeks)

These three types or grades are important in understanding torn MCL recovery time. So, “why are there such varied time between grades and varied time with in a grade?”. To answer the question, it is important to understand, “what does a person experience, when they have a Grade 1, Grade 2, or Grade 3 tear”.

Symptoms of an MCL Sprain 

With a Grade 1 MCL sprain, the person experiences pain on medial side of the knee but their knee remains stable.
With Grade 2 MCL sprain, the person experiences pain on the medial side of the knee and experiences an increase in movement in the knee in the medial direction. One might report it feels their knee could buckle inward or feels the knee wants to buckle inward.
With Grade 3 MCL sprain, the patient may or may not experience pain on the medial side of the knee and reports the knee feels unstable and has instances of the knee buckling inward if they make a sideways movement or turn the wrong way.
Now that one knows some of the symptoms of an MCL injury they can start to understand why torn MCL recovery time is so varied and varied within the grade.

Recovery Time for MCL Injuries by Grades

As one can see from the symptoms with the three different grades are different severities of the injury. Grade 1 is the least severe due to the MCL only being agitated, but no severe damage. So the MCL recovery time is around 1 to 2 weeks, due to the time for the inflammation and irritation to go away. Everyone varies on how long it takes for the body to recovery. There are a multitude of other variables as well such as is the person truly resting or they still being active on the knee or do they have other health conditions that could delay the healing, etc.

For Grade 2 sprain, the recovery time is 2-4 weeks because the inflammation needs to be minimized and time is needed for the MCL to scar down to allow the knee to stabilize as much as possible. Despite the ligament scarring down and stabilizing some, there will be some laxity still present in the knee joint due to the stretching of the ligament.

For Grade 3 sprain, the recovery time is around 4-8 weeks due to minimizing inflammation, allowing the MCL to scar down and most importantly allowing the patient to gain the strength to help stabilize the knee as much as possible since the person no longer has an MCL to prevent the knee from moving inward.

Once the pain goes away, that does not guarantee the patient is fully healed. They may still be prone to re-injury. That is why it is important once the irritation calms down for the person to see a physical therapist and possibly complete some physical therapy. The physical therapist can assess the patient’s ROM, strength, gait pattern, and body mechanics to see if any of these aspects contributed to the injury. If one or multiple aspects contributed to the injury, which it is very likely they did. The physical therapist can create an appropriate treatment plan for the patient to make a full recovery, allow then to return to their normal activities and minimize the risk for re-injury. 

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