MCL Tears

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a strong ligament on the inside of your knee.  It is primarily responsible for the side-to-side stability of the knee.  It is often injured with impact injuries to the knee.  The MCL has a better blood supply than most ligaments in the knee and therefore a better healing potential. Stress X-Rays will determine how badly the MCL is injured.  Ligament injuries are graded as grade 1- sprain without instability to grade 3- complete tear.

Non-Surgical Treatment

The MCL can often be treated without surgery.  The mainstay of treatment is protecting the MCL with a brace.  You will also be held out of sports and may even need crutches of you have other injuries.  Physical therapy will be a mainstay of your treatment.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is reserved for certain instances only.  Dr. Petre will need to examine you and evaluate your x-rays and MRIs in order to be able to tell you if you need surgery.  Some of the instances that need surgery are tears of the MCL that come off of the tibia, tears that are associated with other knee ligament tears, or severe complete tears.  Surgery may be a ligament repair with suture anchors or a ligament reconstruction with a donor graft.  Patients who need surgery will need a brace after surgery and physical therapy for strengthening and motion.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

On average, a ligament takes 6 weeks to heal.  Whether you need surgery or non-surgical treatment, you should expect to be wearing a brace and possibly modifying your activity for at least this long.  Some Grade 1-2 injuries can return to sports before 6 weeks with the brace on.

Surgery FAQs

  • How long does surgery take? Approximately 2 hours.
  • What kind of anesthesia will I need? General anesthesia with or without a femoral nerve block is the standard.  Epidural anesthesia can also be considered.
  • How long will I be in the hospital? Many patients can leave that same day, occasionally Dr. Petre will have you stay one night in the hospital
  • Is surgery safe? All surgery has risks; however, this surgery when compared to all other surgery is very safe.
  • Will I need physical therapy? Yes.  Physical therapy is crucial to an excellent outcome.
  • How long before I can return to work/school? For jobs and academics that require minimal physical exertion and can be done with crutches, many people can return in a few days to 2 weeks.  For jobs that require heavy lifting or exertion, it is safe to plan 4 weeks off.
  • How long before I can return to my sports? Grade 1: immediately to 1 week. Grade 2: 2-4 weeks. Grade 3: 4-8 weeks.
  • How long before i can drive a car? All patients must be off pain medicine before driving.  Many patients can return to driving in 2 weeks or less once they feel completely safe operating a vehicle.
  • How long will I be on crutches? Grade 1-2 injuries usually don’t require crutches.  Some grade 3 or surgical njuries will need crutches for a few days.
  • How long will I need pain medicine?  Most patients need 3-5 days of pain medicine and sometimes up to 2 weeks.  If you are still having pain requiring narcotic pain medicine after a month, Dr. Petre may ask you to see a pain specialist.
  • How long will I need a brace or sling? 6-12 weeks minimum.