The medial collateral ligament, or MCL, is a broad, thick band that runs down the inner part of the knee, from the femur (thighbone) to a point 1.5 to 2 inches from the top of the tibia (shinbone). The MCL functions primarily to prevent the leg from extending too far inward, but it's also part of the mechanism that stabilizes the knee and allows it to rotate.
MCL injuries commonly occur when such a strong force hits the outside of the knee that it causes the MCL – and possibly other knee ligaments, such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – to stretch or tear.
This happens to people playing certain sports – in football, for example, when one player collides with another from the side. MCL injuries are also common in sports that require quick stops and turns, such as soccer, basketball and skiing. However, not everyone who damages this ligament is an athlete. Simply slipping on ice, if the lower leg splays out, can injure the MCL, as can repetitive smaller injuries that gradually cause the MCL to lose its normal elasticity and become limp, like a worn-out rubber band.
Our Approach to MCL Tears
UCSF is committed to helping patients with MCL tears return to the highest level of activity possible, whether that means a daily walk or reporting for practice with the NFL. Our team includes orthopedic surgeons, primary care sports medicine doctors, physical therapists and athletic trainers. These specialists work together to tailor a treatment plan to each patient's needs and goals.
Most MCL injuries can be healed through physical therapy. We offer the full range of these treatments, including exercise regimens, functional activity training and neuromuscular reeducation (techniques that condition the area to move normally again). Our specialists guide each patient through a personalized program designed to facilitate healing, recover function and improve physical performance.
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UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.