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MCL Injury Treatment Guide

by Patty Weasler, RN August 18, 2021 0 Comments

wrapping knee ice wrap

If you’ve suffered a MCL injury, treatment will be determined by the severity and focus on reducing pain and stabilizing the knee. When you have been cleared by your doctor or physical therapist you can begin working on knee mobility and strengthening exercises. Thankfully, in most situations, surgery is not necessary and is reserved for specific types of MCL injuries. Keep reading to learn more about MCL injury treatment.

Initial Treatments

The MCL runs along the inside of the knee and connects the tibia (shinbone) to the lower portion of the femur (thighbone). People tend to injure their MCL during contact sports when there is strong contact to the outside of the knee. The MCL works to prevent the knee joint from bending inward and as a result, becomes injured.

Learn More About MCL Injuries

Initial treatment for MCL knee injuries begins with the RICE acronym, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your doctor may suggest additional treatments based on the severity of the injury. Here we will cover those conservative, at-home treatments that you can initiate immediately after your knee injury.


Immediately after your MCL injury, you will want to immobilize your knee. This will stabilize the knee joint and prevent further damage to the ligament. To immobilize your knee you can wear a restrictive knee brace. Giving your knee some time to rest will help decrease swelling and knee pain.

Avoid Weight Bearing Activities

After an MCL injury, you’ll need to listen to your body to determine what the right amount of weight bearing is appropriate. If you’ve suffered a mild MCL sprain you’ll want to avoid walking for long distances and stay away from the activity that caused the injury. However, if you have an MCL tear then you might need to avoid all weight bearing activities for a period of time. Before you start moving around, talk to your doctor to determine the right amount of activities and weight your knee joint can handle.

You may need to consider crutches or a knee walker for a short period of time while your knee heals.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is a great way to reduce swelling and knee pain. The cold interrupts the pain signal from the brain as a result reducing pain. It also causes the blood vessels in the area to tighten which will lessen swelling. Place an ice pack placed over the injured knee for 20 minutes at a time for the first three days. Don’t fall asleep with an ice pack on as it can cause damage to your skin.


While you’re taking time to rest and let your knee heal, place a pillow or folded blanket under your knee to elevate it. Elevation encourages fluid to return to your heart which will reduce swelling and pain. Make time every day to elevate your knee, do it while you watch TV or are in bed.

A leg elevation pillow can make this easy and convenient.

Anti Inflammatory Medication

An MCL injury can cause some serious knee pain and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen will work to reduce pain and inflammation. These over-the-counter medications are generally considered safe for most people and are easily found in pharmacies. Always talk to your health care professional before you begin a new medication to prevent any unintended side effects.

Recovery Treatments

Every patient’s recovery treatment will look slightly different and depend largely on the severity of the injury. Talk to your doctor to determine your injury severity before you start exercise or other recovery activities. Once you’ve been cleared, there are several ways you can work to ensure you have a fast and full recovery.


Exercises for MCL injury treatment will focus on strengthening your muscles like the hamstrings to help prevent additional injury. Begin with easy exercises that challenge you to do non-weight bearing exercise. Once you begin to feel more confident you can move on to movements that use your full range of motion to strengthen your legs and knees.

Effective MCL exercises


A knee brace will prevent your knee from moving from side to side while still allowing you to move it up and down. Braces come in several different levels of support, look for one that has hinged sides for maximum knee protection. Wear your knee brace to feel supported when you resume activities and to avoid unintentional movements that could further damage your MCL.

Find the Best Knee Brace for Your Needs

Compression Therapy

If you don’t quite need a brace but would like some gentle support then compression therapy with an elastic bandage or knee sleeve may be the right fit. These compression devices work by squeezing your knee and the surrounding area. This will reduce swelling and pain while also providing a minimal amount of knee joint support. Perhaps one of the largest benefits of wearing a compression device is that it will increase your proprioception (body awareness), so you will be less likely to make movements that will injure your knee.

Learn More About Compression Therapy

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist is professionally trained to assist in recovery from injuries like MCL sprains and tears. Your physical therapist will evaluate your injury and determine the best stretches and exercises for you. They will guide you through each movement and will likely ask that you do some of the movements at home as well. If you need mobility assistance they will help you find the right device like crutches or brace.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatment for an MCL injury is fairly rare. It’s generally reserved for elite athletes, those patients with multiple ligament tears, or for persistent knee instability despite comprehensive nonsurgical treatment. If your surgeon does decide that surgery is the best route for you, your doctor will likely order imaging tests like x-rays or an MRI scan to evaluate the injury.

The two types of surgery generally involve either reattaching the damaged ligament or reconstruction. Recovery time varies greatly from patient to patient and can be shortened by following your surgeon’s recovery instructions and keeping up with your physical therapy regimen.

Healing Your MCL Injury

MCL injury treatment begins with conservative treatments like rest, ice, compression, and elevation. To further protect your knee use a knee brace and start strengthening exercises that will work on your upper and lower legs. A physical therapist is a helpful guide during your recovery and will show you specific exercises to get you back on your feet quickly. Always talk to your doctor before you begin a new treatment to ensure you are on the right path to recovery.


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Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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