MCL Tear Symptoms

MCL Tear Symptoms (And What To Do About Them)

September 28th, 2015

If you or someone you love is experiencing knee joint pain after a sports injury, you may be wondering if it could be a tear of the medial collateral ligament (MCL). However, because these injuries are somewhat less common than other knee injuries like ACL tears, you may be unfamiliar with the symptoms and available treatment options. At Rothman Institute, we want to help you get back to the lifestyle you love as soon as possible. So, in this blog we will explore common MCL tear symptoms to help patients like you better understand the condition.

What Is An MCL Tear?

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the four ligaments that stabilize the knee joint. Made of strong, fibrous material, these ligaments limit joint mobility to control excessive and potentially problematic motion within the joint. The MCL connects the end of the femur to the top of the tibia on the inside of the knee joint. It works to prevent the “opening up” of the inside of the knee joint.

However, if the outside of the knee is struck, an MCL injury or tear may occur. The blow causes the outside of the knee to buckle, widening the inside. Although the MCL is powerful, it can be stretched too far, and an injury can occur.

MCL Tear Symptoms Vary By The Grade Of The Injury

MCL tears can take a number of different forms, all of which will affect the particular symptoms that manifest. In some cases, an MCL injury is isolated; other times, it is part of a more complex injury involving other ligaments, bones or cartilage.

Orthopaedic and sports medicine doctors tend to classify MCL injuries into three different categories. The MCL tear symptoms tend to correlate with the grade of the injury, on a scale of I to III.

  • Grade I MCL Tear Symptoms: This grade refers to an incomplete tear of the ligament. In these cases, the tendon is still in continuity and the symptoms reported tend to be mild. Often, patients will report pain and pressure on the inside of the knee, where the MCL is located. Typically, athletes with Grade I MCL injuries can return to their sports very quickly and only miss an average of 2-4 weeks of play.   
  • Grade II MCL Tear Symptoms: These injuries are also incomplete tears of the MCL, but of a more severe nature. Patients report instability, especially during certain cutting or pivoting maneuvers, and their pain and swelling is much more significant than during a Grade I tear. Athletes with this level of injury can typically expect to rest for about 4 to 6 weeks before returning to play.

  • Grade III MCL Tear Symptoms: A complete tear of the MCL, Grade III is the most severe classification of this injury. These patients experience significant pain and swelling which often affects their ability to bend their knee. Additionally, they typically experience at least some level of instability, with the knee potentially “giving out.” Rest and recovery usually takes at least six weeks, and often requires some form of bracing to comfortably stabilize the knee during this time.

Next Steps Toward Diagnosis And Treatment

Whether you are experiencing Grade I or Grade III MCL tear symptoms, it is important to talk with a sports medicine specialist soon after your injury. Typically, the diagnosis process will involve a physical exam in conjunction with an x-ray or MRI scan.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will talk with you about treatment options. There are a number of non-surgical and surgical options available for MCL injuries. At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, you will get treatment from some of the most experienced orthopaedic and sports medicine doctors and surgeons in the area.

For more information, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

Related Specialties

Related Physicians

Filter Physicians



Please select your region to view available physicians.

Select Your Region
1 of 1
You are using an unsupported version of Internet Explorer. To ensure security, performance, and full functionality, please upgrade to an up-to-date browser.