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ACL vs MCL Tear

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Knee injuries are extremely common, especially in athletes, with the most dreaded of these injuries being a ligament tear. With an Anterior Cruciate Ligament or Medial Collateral Ligament tear, an individual can expect to sit on the sidelines for months, or even longer, depending on the severity of the injury. However, while ACL and MCL tears are commonly associated with each other, they are in fact very different.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, is located in the middle of your knee and helps stabilize the joint, preventing the femur from sliding back on the tibia. Without the ACL, the knee would not be stable, as the ACL keeps the knee from over-rotating and over-extending.

An Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear is one of the most commonly occurring injuries in sports. These injuries result from quick changes of direction, sudden stops or jumps. Other causes include:

  • Hyperextension of the knee
  • Sudden turn or cut made with the knee
  • Hit on the side of the knee while the foot is planted

An ACL tear can typically be determined by an audible “pop” of the knee, swelling and immense pain. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Instability of the knee
  • Loss of feeling or numbness down the leg, in serious cases

While a minor Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear may only require rest and physical rehabilitation, other injuries are severe enough to require surgery.

Medial Collateral Ligament Tear

The Medial Collateral Ligament, or MCL, is located on the inner side of the knee, spanning from the end of the femur to the top of the tibia. It helps connect the thigh bone to the shin bone and prevents the femur from sliding side to side or the knee from buckling inward.

The most common cause of a Medial Collateral Ligament tear occurs when the outer edge of the knee is hit hard, like when athletes collide with one another or are tackled. The impacted knee will stretch the MCL, which will tear if the knee is pushed too far beyond its limit or suddenly twisted. An MCL tear usually occurs during a landing, and can also be injured when landing after a jump.

Depending on the grade of severity, a Medial Collateral Ligament tear can result in varying symptoms:

  • Grade I: mild tenderness over the inside of the knee with minimal swelling
  • Grade II: more pain and swelling on the inside of the knee and more likely to display instability
  • Grade III: MCL ligament ruptures or tears completely with significant swelling in the knee, difficultly bending the knee and instability

If you suspect that you have a ligament tear, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. ACL injuries usually require more extensive recovery times, since this type of injury is usually more severe than a torn MCL.

At Lake Pointe Orthapaedics, we provide sports medicine for North Texas. Contact us today if you are experiencing knee pain, or if you suspect that you have a ligament tear.


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