MCL Injury | St. Louis Physical Therapy
MCL Injury in St. Louis. For many athletes and physically active people, feeling that sudden “pop” in their knee creates a lot of doubts: Did I injure my MCL? How bad is the injury? How long will it take to recover? Will my knee ever be the same again? At Axes Physical Therapy in St. Louis, we are driven by positive patient outcomes and getting our clients back to the activities they love most. While we can’t make your MCL injury go away, we can make your recovery safe and effective through personalized, evidence-based treatment plans. Physical therapy has proven to be an integral part of any treatment plan for MCL injuries. Our physical therapists in St. Louis are all licensed and average more than 15 years of individual experience. For lasting and meaningful recovery, call the Axes location nearest you or contact us online.
The Anatomy of the MCL
MCL stands for “medial collateral ligament.” A ligament is a fibrous connective tissue that connects bone to bone and provides stability. The MCL connects your upper shin bone to the inner surface of the bottom thigh bone, running along your inner knee, and maintains stability in the inner knee. Its primary purpose is to resist valgus stress, or the knee being pushed too far inward. It is one of four ligaments in the knee, along with the:
- ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), which runs down the center of your knee and controls rotation and forward movement
- PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), which forms an “X” with the ACL inside the knee and controls backward movement
- LCL (lateral collateral ligament), which connects the femur (thigh bone) to the fibula (the smaller bone in the lower leg) and gives stability to the outer knee
The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the human body. It depends on surrounding bone and muscle, and the tendons and ligaments in order to provide support and stability and function properly. When any knee injury such as an MCL tear occurs it can greatly affect your mobility and ability to do what you love most, or just live a pain-free day-to-day life. Certain physical therapy techniques and other physician-prescribed treatment plans have been proven to help patients reduce pain and return to normal functionality.
What Types of MCL Injuries Are There?
Generally speaking, an MCL injury either involves a strain, wherein the MCL is stretched beyond its normal range of motion, or a tear, where the ligament is either partially or completely torn or separated from the bone. There are three grades to MCL injuries:
- Grade 1 — A grade 1 sprain or tear means that the ligament has been stretched, and less than 10% of the MCL has been torn. It’s typically a mild injury, and your knee largely remains stable. Symptoms will likely be tenderness and mild pain.
- Grade 2 — This injury is when the MCL suffers more significant tearing, usually to the superficial part of the MCL. The superficial part is in the middle layer. Your knee will be slightly unstable, and likely loose when moved by hand. A grade 2 injury will result in significantly more pain than a grade 2 MCL injury.
- Grade 3 — This occurs when your MCL is entirely torn, both the superficial and deep parts. Your knee will be significantly unstable and will likely feel like it’s about to “give out.” Pain will be intense and you’ll likely feel a wide array of symptoms. Grade 3 MCL injuries often occur alongside other knee injuries such as ACL tears.
Whatever grade MCL injury you have, the team of licensed St. Louis physical and occupational therapists at Axes can, along with your doctor, create a comprehensive and personalized plan aimed at returning you to the life you’re used to in a safe and effective manner.
How Do MCL Injuries Occur?
Ligament injuries account for 40% of all knee injuries, and the MCL is the most commonly injured ligament. Most MCL injuries occur due to physical trauma on the outside of the knee. When you suffer a forceful trauma to the outside of your knee, it can push the knee inside far enough that the MCL strains or tears. MCL injuries can also occur if the knee is rotated too forcefully. They can also take place when landing or awkward bending, such as if a cleat is stuck in grass while you’re moving.
MCL injuries are common in athletes in contact sports and in sports that require a lot of cutting, jumping, and sudden movement such as football, soccer, skiing, basketball, and tennis. They can also occur in people who have to squat and lift heavy objects, either for athletic training or in the course of their employment.
Common Symptoms of MCL Injuries
If you suffer an MCL injury in St. Louis, you’ll probably notice it right away. Most people feel pain immediately on the inside of the knee. Other symptoms may include:
- Hearing or feeling a popping noise or sensation
- The knee being unstable, or feeling like it may give out or buckle
- Inability to bear weight
- Tenderness on the inside of your knee
- Swelling, either of the MCL area or the entire knee joint
Sometimes your knee may feel like it’s wobbling when you walk, even if walking doesn’t hurt, while other times the knee feels too stiff. If you experience any of the above symptoms, stop any strenuous activity immediately and seek medical treatment for a diagnosis.
Diagnosing and Treating an MCL Injury in St. Louis
Diagnosing an MCL injury requires a physical examination. The examination will usually start with a St. Louis doctor or physical therapist asking how the injury occurred. They’ll then bend your knee and apply slight pressure to the outside of it, noting your pain level and whether or not your knee is unstable. They’ll also gently feel for swelling, and may compare your injured knee to the healthy one.
Most physical therapists or physicians that specialize in the musculoskeletal system in St. Louis will be able to determine if you have an MCL injury with a physical examination. A phsycian may also order the following imaging tests to check the severity of the injury and whether or not you have suffered other damage to the knee:
- An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which uses a magnet and radio waves to create detailed images of your soft tissue
- An ultrasound, which uses sound waves and can be helpful in checking the severity of your injury
- An X-ray, which, while it won’t show the MCL or other ligaments, may be ordered for a severe MCL injury to ensure there are no broken bones
You can also come to the Axes location most convenient for you for a free, no-obligation injury screening. While we can offer you an evaluation, Missouri law requires a prescription for further physical therapy.
Treating an MCL Injury in St. Louis
The initial treatment of an MCL injury consists of basic first aid: reducing swelling, managing pain, and using the R.I.C.E. Method of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. For mild, grade 1 injuries, the R.I.C.E method, over-the-counter pain relievers, and a few days or week or two of rest may be all you need to get mostly back to normal.
More significant injuries will require professional physical therapy in order truly recover from your MCL injury and get back to the activities you love. You’ll also need to refrain from rigorous activity for an even longer period. Your Axes physical therapist in St. Louis will be able to fit you for a knee brace in order to prevent your knee from moving side to side while your MCL is still healing. With physical therapy, you’ll still continue icing your knee and taking anti-inflammatory pain medication.
Though rare, the most severe cases — in which the MCL is completely torn, the injury is accompanied by an ACL tear, or you are not recovering after several weeks of nonsurgical treatment — may require surgery. During the surgery, a surgeon will use a graft, either from your hamstring or an organ donor, to reattach the torn sections and reconstruct the ligament. The surgery is an outpatient procedure, meaning you would not have to be hospitalized overnight. If you do require surgery in St. Louis, our physical therapists are experts at pre- and post-surgical rehabilitation, which ensures that your knee will be healthy enough for the surgery, and you’ll build back strength safely after the surgery.
How Can Physical Therapy in St. Louis Treat My MCL Injury?
The goal of physical therapy, when dealing with any injury, is to implement safe, targeted, and evidence-backed treatment methods based on each patient’s specific injury and the lifestyle they want to get back to. Physical therapy slowly and effectively improves strength in the surrounding muscles, flexibility of soft tissue, and range of motion to the joint so you can get back to what you love most and prevent further injury. Depending on you and your injuries, your treatment plan may include:
- To begin, passive motions performed by your physical therapist to help restore normal functionality
- More active exercises and stretches later to further develop strength and flexibility
- Exercises with elastic bands, weight lifting equipment, or cardio machines such as a stationary bike
- Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, which studies show accelerates knee ligament healing
- Kinesio Taping®, which provides further stability while your body heals and helps control motion
- Trigger point dry needling to stimulate harder-to-reach tissue
- Blood flow restriction training to improve strength while lessening stress on the joint
- Athletic training and sports therapy for those whose main goal is to get back onto the court or field
At Axes Physical Therapy in St. Louis, all of our treatment plans are designed specifically for you, backed by empirical evidence, and created in concert with your physician, in order to deliver you the best client experience and get you back to the activities you love.
Schedule an Appointment With an Axes Physical Therapist in St. Louis for Your MCL Injury
An MCL injury can be painful and frightening, especially if you’re used to being physically active, but there’s no reason it has to put you on the sideline forever. We know our clients trust us with their recovery, so the treatment method we plan for you will be safe and backed by evidence. As part of our program, we’ll educate you on your injury and the structures of the knee so you can stay as healthy and active as possible. For meaningful and lasting recovery from your MCL injury in St. Louis, call the location nearest you and request an appointment online.