Treatment and Recovery Time for MCL Tears

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the inner side of the knee is most often torn when there is a force that strikes the outside of the knee. The MCL attempts to resist the knee bending sideways and tears if the force is too great. When this happens, you may face a recovery time of weeks to months, depending on the grade of the MCL tear.

Treatment of an MCL tear depends on the severity of the injury. Treatment always begins with allowing the pain to subside, beginning work on mobility, followed by strengthening the knee to return to sports and activities. Bracing can often be useful for the treatment of MCL injuries.

Fortunately, most often surgery is not necessary for the treatment of an MCL tear. In some specific circumstances, surgery may be recommended. Most often, surgery is used for the treatment of specific types of severe MCL injuries.

A man's hand holding a painful knee knee
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Treatment of Grade I MCL Tears

Grade I tears of the MCL often resolve within a few weeks.

Treatment consists of:

Patients with a grade I MCL tear may be able to return to sports within one or two weeks following their injury.

Treatment of Grade II MCL Tears

When a grade II MCL injury occurs, the use of a hinged knee brace can be useful in early treatment. The hinged knee brace will allow you to bend the knee, but provide support to the injured ligament.

Otherwise, the treatment principles are the similar to those for patients with a grade I MCL tear. Athletes with a grade II injury can return to activity once they are not having pain directly over the MCL or symptoms of instability.

Patients with a grade II injury may be able to return to activities within three or four weeks after their injury.​

Treatment of Grade III MCL Tears

When a grade III MCL tear occurs, patients should brace their knee and use crutches until the pain has subsided. The knee can be immobilized for a few days initially, but early range-of-motion will help in the recovery process.

Once the patient can begin bending their knee, early range-of-motion exercises should commence, including stationary bicycling. Normal walking and progression to jogging can begin as pain allows. Use of a hinged knee brace is usually very helpful to support the knee, especially in the earlier stages of rehab.

Most athletes return to sports about three months after a grade III MCL tear.

Surgery for MCL Tears

MCL tears often do not need surgery. There are many studies that document successful nonsurgical treatment in nearly all types of MCL injuries. Most surgeons agree that for patients who complain of persistent knee instability, despite appropriate nonsurgical treatment, surgery is reasonable.

Some surgeons advocate surgical treatment of grade III MCL tears in elite athletes or in those athletes with multiple ligament injuries in the knee. In these circumstances, you should discuss the optimal management of your injury with your healthcare provider.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Collateral ligament injuries.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries.

  3. Nemours Foundation. Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries.

  4. Campagne D. Knee sprains and meniscal injuries. Merck Manual.

  5. Stanford Medicine. How is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury treated?

  6. Andrews K, Lu A, Mckean L, Ebraheim N. Review: medial collateral ligament injuries. J Orthop. 2017;14(4):550-554. doi:10.1016/j.jor.2017.07.017

  7. Laprade RF, Wijdicks CA. The management of injuries to the medial side of the knee. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(3):221-33. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.3624

  8. Encinas-ullán CA, Rodríguez-merchán EC. Isolated medial collateral ligament tears: an update on management. EFORT Open Rev. 2018;3(7):398-407. doi:10.1302/2058-5241.3.170035

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Additional Reading
  • Miyamoto RG, et al. Treatment of Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries. J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., March 2009; 17: 152 - 161.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.