The medical collateral ligament of the knee is coated on the inside of your knee and it is responsible for limiting valgus force which occurs when the tibia/foot is forced outwards in relation to the position of the knee. The MCL attaches from the femoral condyle to the medial tibial condyle. This ligament is one of four ligaments that support the knee during movement. The ligament is a flat band of very tough fibrous connective tissues.
Grades of ligament injury
Damage to this ligament at this level will normally heal within a few weeks. After 6 weeks the fibres should be back to maximal strength. During this period, you should avoid any activities that provoke your pain as well as applying ice to the area regularly to assist with the healing process.
This type of sprain may require some taping or wearing a brace to assist with knee stability and to protect the ligament from further damage. With this level of injury, you should avoid any stretching of the injured ligament and avoid activities that provoke pain. Usually at this stage, once your knee is stable and you have no pain you may return to moderate activity.
This level of damage is normally a compete tear of the ligament, this can also be associated with secondary damage within the knee. You will be locked into a fixed position with this type of injury and will use crutches for a short period of time. At this level you should work with a physiotherapist to rebuild strength in areas around the knee for three to four months.
Symptoms of damage to medial collateral ligament
The severity of damage to the ligament will depend on how your symptoms present. These are symptoms typically associated with damage to the MCL:
- Pain which can range from mild to sever
- Stiffness when trying to move the knee through full range of motion
- Swelling around the knee (particularly the middle portion)
- Tenderness along the side of the knee
- A feeling the knee may give way under stress or may lock or catch.
Each injury is unique and the rehabilitation process is tailored for each individual. The steps that must be achieved in the process will follow this pattern:
- Reduce pain and inflammation
- Increase range of motion (pain free)
- Strengthening of surrounding structures supporting the knee (hamstrings and quads)
- Strengthen other supporting muscles of the lower limb (hip, pelvis and calves)
- Work on flexibility within lower limb muscles
- Improve balance and agility
- Functional movement education (squats, walking, hopping)
- Return to sports programme (To limit chance of re-injury)
If you suspect you may have damage to your medial collateral ligament or are showing symptoms that are similar you should seek medical attention from a physiotherapist to get an accurate diagnosis and minimise recovery time and protect your injured knee.