Treatment Orthopedics

MCL Tear

On average, it takes six weeks for a MCL injury to heal. The initial treatment for most grade 1, 2 or 3 MCL tears focuses on reducing the pain and inflammation in the knee while immobilizing the knee to keep it stabilized. This includes:

  • Resting, icing and elevating the knee
  • Taking pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to ease pain and swelling
  • Wearing a lightweight cast or brace that allows your knee to move backward and forward while restricting side-to-side movement. It usually is recommended to keep the knee immobilized like this for 72 hours, depending on the severity of the injury.

The cast or brace may be designed so that you cannot bend your knee at all. If this is the case, you will need to modify your behavior so that you can avoid having to squat, kneel down or bend over. You should try to keep your leg elevated even if you are sitting in a chair, to reduce blood flow to the knee.

Once the pain and swelling subside, you will begin rehabilitation, which will include exercises to restore strength and normal range of motion to your knee. If your knee feels sore while you are doing these exercises, you should proceed slowly to prevent further irritation.

If the torn ligament does not heal sufficiently, you may experience instability in the joint, and you will be more susceptible to re-injury. The MCL usually responds very well to non-surgical treatment, although surgery may be required in rare cases. Depending on the severity of the injury, a period of rest, bracing and physical therapy usually is sufficient to heal the tear.

Once the MCL has healed fully, you should have a minimum of long-term effects, providing there was no other damage to the knee.

Recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury:

  • A minor, or grade 1, MCL tear can take from a few days to a week and a half to heal sufficiently for you to return to normal activities, including sports.
  • A grade 2 tear can take from two to four weeks to heal.
  • A grade 3 tear usually takes from four to eight weeks to heal, unless it is associated with damage to the ACL, in which case the recovery time may be longer.

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.

Recommended reading

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Why are women winding up with more knee injuries? Researchers suspect one of the most likely causes is the way women are built. Learn more here.

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