The medial collateral ligament or the MCL is a large ligament running along the inner side of the knee. The MCL helps prevent the knee from caving inward. MCL injuries can occur from being hit on the outside of your knee. As we saw with Steph Curry, an MCL injury can also occur if our leg slides to the side and our knee caves inward. Your recovery from an MCL injury can vary from weeks to months depending on the severity of the tear.
The MCL is one of the strongest and largest ligaments in the knee. Anatomically there are two separate parts to the MCL, the deep and superficial portions. The MCL is commonly injured in isolation. Most MCL injuries are usually mild in severity. MCL injuries can also occur in combination with ACL injuries, but that is not a common injury pattern. Unfortunately, MCL injuries are one of the most painful knee injuries.
Types of MCL Injury
MCL injuries are graded 1-3. Grade 3 injuries are the most severe and represent a complete rupture. The ligament has completely torn into 2 parts. Grade 1 injuries are the least severe and only a small portion of the MCL has torn. Grade 2 injuries are somewhere in between. In grade 2 MCL injuries, nearly half of the ligament is usually injured, stretched or torn.
Treatment of MCL Injury
Most MCL injuries do not require surgery. Most MCL injuries are grade 1 or grade 2 tears. Because of the pain that occurs when the MCL is stretched we will typically put you in a brace for a few weeks to support the ligament and ease your pain. Most of you can be started in physical therapy to rehab your knee soon after the injury. Grade 3 injuries might require a longer period of bracing and in some instances a grade 3 complete MCL tear might require surgery to repair the tear.
Recovery From An MCL Injury
Recovery from an MCL injury is very dependent on the grade of your MCL tear. Recovery from a grade 1 MCL injury can be as short as a few weeks. Once your range of motion and strength have recovered most grade 1 MCL injuries can anticipate a full return to sports. MCL injuries do tend to be painful so the pain from the injury might linger on for a month or two.
The recovery from a grade 2 MCL injury will take a while longer. A grade 2 injury might take between 2-3 months until you are comfortable, the knee is stable and your motion and strength have returned to normal. Once you have sustained a grade 2 or 3 injury it is also very important to focus on sports specific rehabilitation and neuromuscular rehabilitation to make sure that your knee is ready to compete.
The recovery from a grade 3 injury can take up to 6 months to recover from. Especially if surgery is necessary to repair the ligament. If surgery was not necessary then you may recover between 3-5 months after your injury. Once again, sports specific and neuromuscular rehabilitation is critical to your recovery and minimizing the risk of reinjury when you return to play.