Medial collateral (MCL) injuries

A medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury is when the ligament on the inside of the knee is stretched or torn, either partially or completely.

What are medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries?

An MCL injury can be a partial or a complete tear, or an overstretch of the ligament. 

The bones of your knee joint are connected by four tough bands called ligaments, which give your knee stability. Your medial collateral ligament (MCL) lies on the inner side of your knee joint, connecting your thigh bone to your shin bone. Along with the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), your MCL controls the sideways movement of your knee. 

The MCL is one of the most commonly injured knee ligament. It often gets injured during sports such as rugby. It’s also common to injure one of your other knee ligaments, or knee cartilage, at the same time as your MCL. 

Knee ligament injuries are also referred to as sprains. They’re given different grades depending on how severe an injury it is. 

The symptoms of an MCL injury can be felt on the inside of your knee and can vary, depending on the severity of the damage. 

They may include: 

  • pain and stiffness on the inside of your knee 
  • tenderness 
  • you may have some swelling 
  • a feeling of instability (if there’s a major tear) 
  • some bruising in the first few days after your injury 

Your medial collateral ligament (MCL) is usually injured by your knee being pushed inwards (towards your other knee). This can happen as a result of: 

  • a direct blow to the outside of your leg – often in contact sports like rugby 
  • twisting your knee – a common skiing injury 
  • repeated stress on your knee – during breast stroke 
  • a fall – usually in older people 

Your consultant may recommend surgery if your MCL damage cannot be helped by physiotherapy and your symptoms don’t improve and the knee remains unstable. 

Discuss your symptoms with your consultant, they will carefully examine your knee. An MRI scan will likely be ordered to assess the damage. 

Treatment of an MCL injury


Minor soft tissue injury can be managed at home with anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen) and plenty of rest. 


Partial tears can be managed with physiotherapy and splintage. Our physiotherapy team can give you exercises to help improve your range of motion and to build up muscle around your knee. 


Depending on your activity levels, profession, and level of injury, your surgeon may offer MCL reconstruction. The operation is normally carried out with minimally invasive surgery. 

The ligament can be repaired in the following ways: 

  • sewing the torn ends together 
  • reattaching the ligament to the bone 
  • inserting an internal brace 
  • grafting a tendon (either from your own leg, or from a donor) in place of your MCL 

Complete recovery from surgery can take from six to 12 months. 

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