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Treatment Orthopedics

MCL Tear

Nonsurgical Methods

Recovery time for an MCL injury depends on the severity of the damage. On average, these injuries take six weeks to heal. No matter the grade of the tear, initial treatment focuses on immobilizing the knee and reducing pain and inflammation. Measures include:

  • Resting, icing and elevating the knee
  • Taking oral medications that relieve pain and inflammation, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Wearing a brace that allows the knee to bend while restricting side-to-side movement

Some knee braces are designed to prevent bending. In that case, you'll need to modify your activities so that you don't have to squat, kneel down or bend over. Try to keep your leg elevated, even when you're sitting, to bring down the swelling.

Once the pain and swelling subside, you'll begin a physical therapy program, which will include exercises to restore strength and normal range of motion. If your knee feels sore while doing these exercises, proceed slowly to prevent further irritation and consult your physical therapist.

Depending on the injury's severity, these methods – a period of rest, bracing and physical therapy – usually suffice to heal the tear. However, if the torn ligament doesn't heal sufficiently, you may experience instability and be more susceptible to reinjury. Surgery may be required in rare cases.

Once the MCL has fully healed, you should have minimal long-term effects, provided your knee suffered no other damage.

As previously noted, recovery times vary widely, but in general:

  • A grade 1 (minor) MCL tear can take from a few days to a week and a half to heal enough for a 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 four to eight weeks to heal, unless the ACL is also damaged, in which case recovery may take longer.

Surgical Methods

While most MCL injuries can resolve without surgery, there are instances where surgery is the best treatment option. The surgery will either repair or reconstruct the MCL. To repair the ligament, your surgeon will make an incision at the torn area and use fixation devices called suture anchors to secure the ligament back to the bone. To reconstruct the ligament, your surgeon will use tendons from either your knee or a cadaver knee.

With either surgery, you can probably return home the same day. After surgery, you'll use crutches and a knee brace for about six weeks. At a post-op visit one to two weeks after surgery, your doctor will check your knee and remove the stitches. Recovery time depends on any related knee injuries but is generally between nine and 12 months.

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.

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