Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of four ligaments that keep the knee joint stable. The MCL spans the distance from the end of the femur (thigh bone) to the top of the tibia (shin bone) and is on the inner side of the knee joint. That's why it's so painful when the ligament is stretched too much or torn. The ligament is usually injured when the outside of the knee joint is struck, during sports or an accident, for example. MCL injuries can occur by themselves or with other injuries such as an ACL or meniscus tear.

If you have -- or suspect you have -- an MCL injury or tear, you should know that the physicians at the University of Michigan Department of Orthopaedic Surgery have the expertise to diagnose and treat this painful condition. We are among the oldest and most well-regarded orthopaedic units in the country, performing more ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus operations than some hospitals do in a five-year period.

We take an integrated, multidisciplinary approach that brings together the skills -- and the knowledge -- of all areas of our health system that will be involved in your care.

Our goal is to improve the quality of your life. 

Note: If you have suffered a trauma -- whether it's from a fall or a sports injury -- it's important to seek treatment as soon you can, or you could risk further complications such as stiffness, prolonged pain or scar tissue in the joint. Getting that diagnosis quickly and accurately means we can treat you while the injury is simpler to treat.


Some typical symptoms include:

  • Bruising
  • Feeling that the knee is unstable, may give out or may buckle
  • Pain directly over the ligament (the most common symptom)
  • Swelling of the torn ligament and/or knee joint


When you come to the University of Michigan:

  • We will take your complete medical history, ask you about your pattern of symptoms and conduct a physical exam.
  • We can diagnose an MCL during a physical exam.
  • We may conduct tests such as X-rays.

Then we will use all of this information to develop an individualized treatment plan for you. 


Most MCL tears don't require surgery, and we like to take a non-surgical approach first. Your doctor may recommend treatments such as:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Ice
  • Crutches, brace or splint
  • Physical therapy - The University of Michigan has a top-notch Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation unit that is fully ready to take part in your care and set you on the path to a pain-free life. 
  • Reducing activity for awhile
  • Rest
  • RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation is very important acutely).

The most important component in full recovery is physical therapy.                                                                                      

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

  • MedSport, 877-877-9333, or 734-930-7400
  • Orthopaedics, 734-936-5780
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), 734-936-7175

You're about to make an important decision, and we want to help you make a good one. Because we are highly experienced in successfully treating all types of knee pain, including MCL tears and injuries, we would like to help you explore your options. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of Musculoskeletal Call Centers. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help.