MCL Injury

MCL Injury Overview

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the four main ligaments found within the knee joint. The MCL begins at the end of the femur (thighbone) and extends to the top of the tibia (shinbone). Located on the inside of the knee, the ligament provides stability when the knee is moved from side to side and protects against widening of the inside of the joint. A patient may experience an MCL injury when extreme force is applied to the outside portion of the knee, such as when a football player is tackled with impact on the lateral side of the joint. A medial collateral ligament tear may occur when the ligament is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. If this occurs, Dr. Matthew Provencher, orthopedic knee specialist serving the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado communities, is available to diagnose and treat the MCL tear and return patients to an active, pain-free lifestyle.

An MCL injury is quite common and typically occurs during a hard hit, fall onto the outside of the knee or an awkward landing during sports activities. A medial collateral ligament tear is classified in a Grade 1-3 system, ranging from a stretch to a complete MCL tear.

  • Grade 1- An incomplete, mild tear where the MCL is stretched but still intact
  • Grade 2- An incomplete, partial tear that creates pain and instability when a patient attempts to pivot
  • Grade 3- A complete MCL tear that causes extreme pain within the knee joint

MCL Injury Symptoms

The hallmark symptom of an MCL injury is knee pain. Patients may also experience swelling, bruising and instability when weight is placed on the injured knee.

MCL Injury Diagnosis

Dr. Provencher will determine an MCL injury with a combination of a physical examination, medical review, a series of x-rays and an MRI scan. The physical examination is designed to test range of motion, function, strength and overall pain following a medial collateral ligament tear. Dr. Provencher will view the x-rays in great detail to rule out damage to the bony structures. He will view the MRI to assess severity of ligament damage and to confirm no other soft tissues were injured during the MCL tear.

MCL Injury Treatment

Treatment of a medial collateral ligament tear depends on severity of damage to the ligament and patient’s overall knee function.


An incomplete or partial MCL tear is commonly treated with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method, bracing and strict physical therapy protocols prescribed by Dr. Provencher. It is strongly suggested that patients work with the in-house physical therapists at Howard Head Sports Medicine to optimize their rehabilitation.


If the MCL injury failed to respond to conservative treatment measures or if the tear is too severe, a surgical procedure may be recommended by Dr. Provencher. He commonly utilizes an open procedure to repair or reconstruct the damaged MCL. If possible, he will perform a repair and suture the torn ligament to promote healing. If this is not possible, he will perform either an augmentation (suturing the remaining ligament and reinforcing with a graft) or a complete reconstruction (reconstructing the entire ligament with a graft), depending on injury severity. The grafts are typically taken from the patient or are a donated graft from another individual. Dr. Provencher will explain the pros and cons of each graft option in great detail at a patient’s first consultation.

For additional resources on an MCL injury, such as a medial collateral ligament tear, please contact the orthopedic practice of Dr. Matthew Provencher, knee specialist located in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.