MCL and ACL Tears

Orthopaedic Specialists treats ACL and MCL tears in Louisville KY.

Would you believe us if we told you there are over 300 joints in the human body? That’s right – adults actually have around 350 joints. Out of all 350 of those joints, the knee joint is actually the largest and one of the most complex. While every joint plays a vital role in the overall function of the body, the knee joint is especially important. It not only supports your weight, but is also what allows you to move and bend your legs. That’s why doctors emphasize the importance of proper treatment and recovery for injuries like MCL and ACL tears! 

An Overview of Ligaments in the Knee

Proper movement of the knee wouldn’t be possible without the help of the four primary ligaments in the knee joint:

  1. The medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  2. The lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
  3. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  4. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)

These ligaments are strong and flexible bands of tissue that connect bones to one another and provide stability in the joint. You can find the MCL and LCL along the inner and outer sides of the knee, the ACL in the middle of the knee, and the PCL deeper in the knee behind the ACL. While these ligaments play a vital role in keeping the knee joint strong and stable, the knee is still a vulnerable joint that is susceptible to injury. 

Two of the most common knee injuries include MCL and ACL tears. 

MCL Tear VS. ACL Tear

MCL and ACL tears occur when the fibers of the ligament are torn either partially or completely into two pieces. Anyone can experience an MCL tear, however, they are more common in athletes who participate in sports such as football, basketball, and skiing. 

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) forms an “X” shape with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and helps to keep the knee from bending or rotating past its natural limit. Similar to MCL tears, ACL tears can happen to anyone, but basketball, football, and soccer athletes experience them most commonly. Additionally, research shows that female athletes are more likely to experience ACL tears than men.

Causes of MCL and ACL Tears:

There are several different movements or circumstances that can lead to an MCL or ACL tear. The causes for MCL and ACL tears are very similar and can include: 

  • Forcefully shifting directions while one foot is planted on the ground 
  • Someone or something forcefully hitting the outer side of the knee (MCL) or the side of the knee more generally (ACL) 
  • Squatting or lifting heavy objects (MCL)
  • Landing from a jump in a strange position that tweaks the knee
  • Hyperextending (overstretching) the knee
  • Repeated pressure and stress to the knee – this can cause the MCL or ACL to lose elasticity 
  • When the knee is bent backward or twisted (ACL)
  • Car accidents or hard falls can also lead to ACL tears if too much force is put on the knee

Oftentimes, injuries that cause ACL tears can also damage other parts of the knee, so it is not abnormal for an ACL and MCL tear to occur at the same time. 

MCL and ACL Tear Symptoms:

Much like the causes of MCL and ACL tears, the symptoms of both injuries manifest in similar ways. Depending on the severity of the injury, torn knee ligament symptoms can include: 

  • Hearing a popping sound when the injury occurs
  • Pain in the knee
  • Tenderness on the inner side of the knee (MCL)
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Instability of the knee that makes it difficult to walk or support your weight 
  • Locking or catching of the joint 
  • Loss of range of motion

MCL and ACL Tear Diagnosis:

The severity of both MCL and ACL tears are classified based on a 3 grade level. When it comes to the diagnosis of an MCL or ACL tear, a healthcare provider will first conduct a physical exam to get a sense of the severity of the injury based on pain level and range of motion. After a physical exam, your provider may order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), an ultrasound, X-ray, or CT (computed tomography) scan. This allows doctors to look at the injury in more detail. At this stage, they will also be able to see if there are any other injuries to the knee. 

Treatments for MCL and ACL Tears:


More often than not, MCL tear recovery does not require surgical treatment unless there are other injuries to the knee that occur alongside an MCL tear. Instead, MCL injury treatment may include:

  • Using the RICE method, which includes resting the knee, icing the knee, wearing a compression band, and elevating the knee during rest. This method helps reduce pain and swelling. 
  • Taking pain medication to reduce pain and swelling in the knee.
  • Using crutches to reduce the amount of weight that is put on the injured knee.
  • Physical therapy exercises to regain strength and range of motion

MCL tear recovery time varies depending on the grade of the injury. A grade 1 MCL tear can take 1-3 weeks to heal, a grade 2 MCL tear can take 4-6 weeks to heal, and a grade 3 MCL tear can take 6 weeks or more to fully heal.


As for ACL tear treatment, it is possible for an ACL tear to heal naturally if it is a low grade tear. However, athletes who wish to return to their sports or those who have severe ACL tears typically undergo surgery and have the ACL surgically repaired.

Outside of surgery, torn ACL treatment also involves:

  • The RICE method
  • Taking pain medication
  • Using crutches
  • Wearing a brace to hold the knee in place 
  • Physical therapy exercises

It is extremely important that an ACL injury is properly healed before getting back into physical activity or else you run the risk of reinjuring the ACL. Depending on the severity of the injury and whether or not surgery is involved in the treatment plan, ACL tear recovery time can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months.  

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury in the Louisville, Kentucky-area, board certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stacie Grossfeld at Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC can help. Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC is accepting new patients, and same day appointments are available. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC today at 502-212-2663.