Navigating your everyday environment requires a coordinated effort from many parts of your body. For example, our bones, muscles, and joints work together to enable us to walk, run, and perform just about any activity. More specifically, our tendons attach muscles to bones, while our ligaments connect bones to other bones, especially in the joints.
In fact, ligaments play an essential role in stabilizing the body. They ensure the bones in our joints don’t become dislocated or torque too much during twisting movements.
Try this: Walk around for a few seconds. Now, walk without moving your knees.
As you can see, with each step, the knee needs to bend somewhat. Walking with a flexed knee is awkward and applies added pressure to the hips. As you walked, you probably noticed that your knee joint remained stable. It didn’t bend leftward or rightward.
That’s your ligaments in action.
Of course, a torn MCL or other knee injuries can seriously alter how you get around. Let’s take a closer look.
Did you know that the knee joint is the largest joint in the body? It consists of just three bones—the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and the patella (kneecap). Your knee joint acts as a hinge, powered by the hamstrings and quadriceps. It allows you to walk, squat, jump, sit, and stand.
As you already know, something needs to hold these bones and muscles together.
The quadriceps tendon attaches these muscles to the kneecap. On the inside of the joint, an inner membrane secretes fluid to lubricate the joint. The outer layer of the joint is supported by a series of ligaments. Each ligament has specific functions to support the knee joint.
The medial collateral ligament runs down the inner part of the knee. It connects the bottom of the thigh bone to the top of the shinbone. This thick, wide band of tissue prevents the leg from extending too far inward. It also assists with knee stability and rotation.
A torn MCL is a fairly common sports injury. It can occur when someone quickly changes direction or twists the knee while running. Also, landing incorrectly while jumping may twist the knee, thus causing an MCL tear. Physical contact may also be to blame. If someone is hit on the outside of the knee, for instance, the force may stretch or tear the MCL.
As you can imagine, sports that involve excessive physical contact or added pressure on the knee increase the risk of a torn MCL. These high-risk activities include football, soccer, basketball, hockey, tennis, and skiing.
Skiing? Yes. In fact, about 60 percent of skiing knee injuries involve the MCL.
So only athletes get an MCL injury?
Not necessarily. Traumas like violent attacks or car accidents may also affect the MCL. Anyone who lands wrongly on the knee may also suffer an MCL injury.
Now that you know a little more about the knee and the causes of a torn MCL, you are probably wondering if this is the cause of your knee pain.
Did you feel a “popping” sensation during an activity or while landing? This sensation is one tell-tale sign of a torn MCL. Check out the next section to learn about the other symptoms.
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As mentioned earlier, feeling or hearing a “popping” sensation may indicate a torn MCL. This is especially true when you land improperly or experience a collision where the knee is forced inward.
Shortly after the “pop,” you may experience knee pain—sometimes severely. MCL pain location and swelling occur around the inside part of the knee. Swelling can be accompanied by stiffness and tenderness.
Can you still walk with a torn MCL? Some individuals may be able to walk. The knee, however, can feel unstable. You may feel like the knee will lock up or buckle while trying to walk. Also, applying weight on the knee can become very painful.
If you suspect a torn MCL, then you shouldn’t play or work through the pain. This may make the tear even worse. Have the area checked out by a doctor right away. A proper diagnosis can determine which ligaments were affected and the most appropriate treatment options for you.
If you are dealing with any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Your doctor will gather information about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Also, your doctor will review your medical history and any previous knee injuries. A physical exam and possible diagnostic imaging can determine the severity of your MCL tear. Doctors also tend to use X-rays or MRIs to obtain a better look at the knee joint.
In fact, your doctor will classify your MCL injury in one of the three following categories:
This grading helps determine the most appropriate treatments for MCL tears.
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Once your torn MCL is diagnosed, you may be referred to an orthopedic doctor.
There’s good news.
Since the MCL has the advantage of a good blood supply, it usually responds well to nonsurgical treatments. The healing process, however, may take some time and effort. The focus of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation. Also, the knee may need to be immobilized while it heals.
After your injury, you will need to rest, ice, and elevate the knee. Taking over-the-counter medications—like NSAIDs such as ibuprofen—can aid with pain management. Sometimes a lightweight cast or MCL brace that restricts side-to-side movement may be recommended. More severe injuries may also require the use of crutches.
Once the swelling and pain go away, you may be referred to a physical therapist for rehabilitation. The goals of physical therapy for a torn MCL include restoring strength and range of motion in the knee. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop an individualized exercise routine based on your specific needs. It’s important to gauge your pain levels during these exercises to prevent further irritation.
When can you expect to return to doing what you love? It depends on the grade of your injury. Here are some general timelines:
Once the MCL heals completely, you may not have any long-term effects of the injury.
Luckily, a torn MCL rarely needs surgery. If other ligaments of the knee are also affected, surgery may be necessary for a full recovery. Also, a grade 3 torn MCL at the thigh bone or shin bone may require the ligament to be reattached with stitches.
A knee injury can severely limit how you live your life. Each step can become a painful reminder that something is not right in your knee. Luckily, with the help of a team of dedicated professionals, you don’t have to continue suffering.
NJ Spine & Orthopedic wants you to get back to enjoying life. Our team takes the time to get to know you, how you’re suffering, and your specific treatment goals. We believe—for most injuries—conservative treatments should be considered before opting for surgery. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge to make treatment decisions based on your needs and preferences.
If your knee injury requires surgery, our surgeons have decades of experience treating a variety of orthopedic conditions. Using the latest technologies and techniques, we ensure you get back to doing what you love as quickly as possible.
Why not schedule a consultation today to enjoy a better future? Call us at (855) 586-2615.
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