MCL Sprain: Grades, Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery Time

The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) is one of the four major ligaments in the knee.

It is located at the inner aspect of the knee joint. It attaches the tibia bone (found in your leg) to the femur (thigh bone) and prevents the knee from going inwards. An MCL sprain is an injury to the ligament and can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Usually, an injury to the MCL may also affect other ligaments in the knee and lead to instability.

What Can Cause MCL Sprain?

1. Trauma

One of the major causes of MCL sprain is usually due to trauma to the outer side of the knee joint. An external trauma like a fall can overstretch or tear the ligaments on the inner aspect of the knee.


2. Knee Deformities

Deformities such as knock-knees put a lot of stretching pressure on the MCL which may eventually lead to a sprain.

3. Muscle Weakness

Weak muscles around the knee joint can cause ligament sprain. The muscles and ligaments work together to stabilize the joint. However, if the muscles are weak, there will be a lot of pressure on the ligaments which can lead to an injury in the MCL.

What Are The Different Grades Of MCL Sprain

Grade 1 MCL Sprain

In this grade of injury, the ligaments are not torn but have been stretched above the ligaments limit. It’s like stretching a rubber band just before it cuts. The rubber band cuts when it has exceeded its elastic limit.

Grade 2 MCL Sprain

Some of the ligaments are torn in this grade of injury.

Grade 2 MCL Sprain

This is the most severe grade of ligament injury. The ligaments are completely torn and there is also joint instability.


MCL Sprain Symptoms

Pain And Tenderness

Pain may be felt at the knee. Touching the side of the knee may cause pain.


Swelling might be seen around the knee.

Pop–Like Sound

A pop-like sound or tear sound is usually heard when a ligament snaps.

Unstable knee

The MCL stabilizes the inner part of the joint. So when there is an injury to the MCL, there is a tendency for the knee to “give way” when bearing weight on the affected knee. The knee may also lock while walking or standing.

How Is It Treated?

Medications (NSAID)

Medications such as ibuprofen or diclofenac can reduce swelling and also relieve pain.


The PRICE method

The PRICE method is an acronym used to treat an acute injury. The acronym stands for:

P – Protect

Protect the joint from further injury. This can be done using a knee brace or a POP cast. This prevents the joint from any form of movement, stabilizes the knee and aids healing of the MCL.

R – Rest

The knee joint is a weight-bearing joint in the body. The knee is necessary for us to move and stand. When injured, the knee needs to be relieved of its duties. The use of crutches or any other walking aid can be used to avoid weight bearing on the affected knee.

I – Ice

Ice has a lot of benefits. It reduces swelling and also relieves pain by making the painful site feel numb. Ice is usually used in forms of ice packs or crushing ice in a damp towel and placing it on the medial side of the knee for 15 minutes every 3 hours for the first 3 days.

C – Compression

Due to the swelling associated with an MCL sprain, compressing the knee with a crepe or compression bandage can help reduce the swelling at the affected joint and provide a bit of support.

E – Elevation

The affected knee joint needs to be elevated to reduce swelling. The knee has to be elevated in such a way that it is raised above the chest level. This enables the heart to pump up the swelling from the knee is a gravity-free plane.


Surgery is usually the last option. It is usually done for a grade 3 injury. The surgery is called a knee ligament repair and it involves stitching the torn ligament.

Recovery Time

The recovery time of an MCL sprain depends on the severity of the injury.

  • For a grade I injury, it may take a few weeks to heal
  • for a grade II injury, it may take six weeks to heal
  • For a grade III injury, it may take 3 – 4 months to heal.

How To Prevent An MCL Sprain

  • Wear appropriate shoes.
  • Listen to your body. After the sprain has healed, ensure you do not overwork the affected leg. The language the body uses when it can take it anymore is a pain. A previous sprain can lead to more injuries that may get worse.
  • Warm-up properly before doing any sporting activity. Effective warming up before any sporting activity can prepare the muscles to act as extra support to the knee joint.
  • Always remember to stretch.
Latest posts by Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH (see all)
  • Save
Share via
Copy link