The long-term goal of treatment following an MCL injury is to help the individual returns to his or her previous level of activity. Patients should know, however, that even the best treatment may not ensure the injured knee will function as well as the uninjured knee and that some changes in activity may be necessary.
The immediate response to an MCL injury is to apply RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation to the injured knee. Athletes should stop training and consult a sports medicine professional who can help them develop a treatment and rehab program. A sports injury or sports medicine physician will apply a support bandage to the knee, remove fluid from the joint with a needle, use sports massage, ultrasound, or laser treatment to speed up rehab, and refer the patient for an MRI scan and possible MCL surgery.
With proper rehab, full recovery can be expected after most MCL tears. Generally, knee rehab for an MCL tear includes strengthening and flexibility exercises, aerobic conditioning, technique refinement, and biofeedback retraining. Use of a collateral ligament brace provides a better sense of stability of the knee for some people who experience an MCL injury.
The good news about an MCL injury is that it rarely requires surgery. If you have a so-called grade IV MCL tear, which is also called a medial column injury, it involves damage to more ligaments than just the MCL. Whether to repair the MCL is controversial, and some doctors prefer to allow MCL injuries to heal without surgery. However, surgery can be done through a small incision on the inside of the knee, but not using arthroscopy because the MCL is not inside the knee joint. An MCL that has been torn where it attaches to the thigh bone or shin bone can be reattached to the bone using stitches, a metal screw, or bone staple. An MCL tear in the middle of the ligament can be sewn together.