A medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury is most commonly seen in contact sports and skiing, where there is a sudden force to the outside of the knee causing the knee to fall inwards. The MCL is a ligament on the inside of the knee, attaching from the thigh bone to the shin bone. It provides stability to the knee joint and maintains the knee within a straight plane of movement. The MCL also has connections to the meniscus, a shock absorbing structure deep within the knee.

MCL injuries fall into 3 grades based on their severity. Grade 1 (Mild), Grade 2 (Moderate, few fibres torn), Grade 3 (a compete tear).  MCL injuries may also involve other structures in the knee joint e.g. meniscus.


Possible Mechanism:

  • Force to the outside of the knee whilst slightly bent e.g. a heavy tackle in rugby
  • Twisting force to the knee whilst slightly bent

Signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Pain and tenderness over the inside aspect of the knee
  • Swelling may be present or delayed
  • Minor instability and/or loss of knee movement

What can I do?

  • Rest from impact movements
  • Ice: 10-15 minutes 3x/day
  • Compression: Bandage or Knee brace
  • Elevation if moderate-large swelling present
  • Move knee within pain threshold and walk as tolerated
  • Book in for assessment by a physiotherapist within 24-48 hours

A physiotherapy assessment can provide you with information regarding management, timeframes and return to sport plan. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess the grade of MCL tear and discuss ongoing treatment and management required.

Grades 1-2 MCL injury may take 4-6 weeks before return to play. Moderate to severe injuries (Grade 3) can take up to 12 weeks. If conservative (physiotherapy) management is not showing improvement, an assessment from an Orthopaedic specialist may be required.

Your physiotherapist will guide you in a graduated return to play once the injury has healed correctly.