What is the Difference Between the Symptoms of an ACL and an MCL Tear?

Differences Between the ACL and MCL Tears

By:Justin Delicato PTA/Site Coordinator JOI Rehab Fleming Island

There are four major ligaments that stabilize the knee. The MCL, or Medial Collateral Ligament, is located on the inside of the knee. It attaches the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ACL, or Anterior Cruciate Ligament, is a ligament connecting the upper leg bone with the lower leg bone. It keeps the knee stable.  This article will discuss the difference between ACL and MCL tears.   If you want to learn more about the ACL, you can watch this video.

Image of the Knee Joint

Causes of an ACL Tear

Typical causes of this tear are: 

  • hyper-extension of the knee
  • sudden turn or cut made with the knee
  • landing from a jump and the leg gives way
  • sudden stop or cutting
  • hit on the side of the knee while the foot is planted

It is typically referred to as an ACL sprain and classified based on the degree of damage ranging from first to third degree. 

Symptoms of a Torn ACL

Common signs and symptoms of a torn ACL include: 

  • increased swelling in the knee minutes after injury
  • difficulty walking or standing
  • instability of the knee
  • audible "pop"
  • onset of intense or mild pain in the knee
  • loss of feeling or numbness down the leg, in serious cases

Causes of an MCL Sprain or Tear

Typical causes of this sprain are:

  • direct contact in sports
  • knee undergoes a twisting motion

It is typically referred to as an MCL sprain and classified based on the degree of damage ranging from first to third degree. 

One major difference between an ACL and an MCL tear is an ACL tear usually has a significant amount of swelling.  Another difference between an ACL and MCL tear is the amount of instability with walking.  With an ACL tear, the patient will need crutches and bracing in order to walk. 

Symptoms of an MCL Sprain or Tear

Depending on the grade of severity, a sprained MCL can result in varying symptoms.

  • Grade I: mild tenderness over the inside of the knee with minimal swelling
  • Grade II: more pain and swelling on the inside of the knee and more likely to display instability
  • Grade III:  MCL ligament ruptures or tears completely, with significant swelling in the knee, difficulty bending the knee and instability.

Treatment

  • For ACL and MCL sprains or tears, it is crucial for a patient to see an orthopedic specialist for further evaluation.  The ACL and MCL are treated very differently in the orthopedic field.  Both injuries initially  are treated with ice, crutches and immobilization.  The ACL often requires surgery for the more severe sprains.  The MCL does not usually require surgery unless it involves other ligaments or it is a complete rupture. At JOI, we have very specific treatment protocols for both injuries.  This article was focused on the difference between an ACL and MCL tear, however, often a more severe knee injury involves both of the ligaments. 

If you want to learn more about the knee injuries, go to https://www.joionline.net/trending/content/acl-tear-worse-meniscal-tear or call JOI -2000. 






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