Knee Injuries: MCL and ACL Tears

Skier about to injure his ACLKnee injuries are common among regular athletes and “weekend warriors.” The knee joint handles a lot of stress. It needs many ligaments and tendons to stabilize the moving parts and allow it to function. Tears in the important MCL and ACL connectors dramatically and painfully weaken the knee. However, appropriate care and physical therapy can help MCL and ACL tears recover so you can get back to your activities stronger than ever.

How Tendons Tear

First, it’s helpful to know where the ligaments are located. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are two of the four critical stabilizing connectors in the knee joint. They are vital for helping the knee maintain its position and stability. Your MCL is on the inside of the knee. This band runs from your thigh bone to your shin bone and helps prevent your knee from collapsing inward. Your ACL is in the front of your knee. It prevents your shin bone from twisting or sliding out of place.

When your knee twists or is forced to bend in a direction it’s not meant to go, the ligaments supporting it stop it from going too far. However, the force of this can damage them, either by over-stretching them and causing a sprain, or by tearing them. This is unfortunately common in sports. Rapid direction changes, collisions with other players, stopping suddenly, landing a jump incorrectly, and other abrupt movements can force the knee to twist or bend incorrectly and severely damage your MCL or ACL.

The Effects of MCL and ACL Damage

Usually MCL and ACL tears happen suddenly and unexpectedly. You might hear a popping noise as the tissue partially or completely ruptures. Your knee will immediately lose stability and may not be able to hold your weight very well. Walking and otherwise using your knee will be very painful. The joint will swell and may feel tender to the touch, too. The pain tends to be most intense directly above the injured tissue. Your knee will feel stiff and have a significant decrease in range of motion.

Because you need these ligaments to stabilize your joint, having ruptures of your MCL or ACL treated right away is extremely important. These injuries do not heal well on their own. Without the right treatment and physical therapy, you may develop chronic pain and weakness in your knee joint. You’ll certainly be less stable and may have trouble with your knee “giving out” under you.

Taking Care of Your Recovery

Fortunately, physical therapy for MCL and ACL tears is very effective. Depending on the severity of the damage, you might need surgery first to reconnect torn ends so they can heal back together. Whether the injury is managed conservatively or with surgery, though, you’ll need physical therapy to help you restore your range of motion and joint stability as you recover.

Our team will evaluate the damage and help you determine what treatments will be most effective. Then we’ll work with you to establish a treatment plan. Initially, you’ll need RICE care to decrease swelling and inflammation around the knee. You’ll have to rest from all activities and keep off your knee as much as possible. Ice the painful area and keep it elevated. You may need to wear a brace to limit or immobilize the joint for a time.

Once you’re able, you’ll begin physical therapy exercises. Typically this includes activities to rebuild your quad, hamstring, and calf muscles to help stabilize and strengthen the knee. You’ll need stretches to loosen tight connectors and restore a normal range of motion, too. Over time, you’ll slowly increase the strain on the joint to condition it, especially if you wish to return to athletic activities.

MCL and ACL tears are serious, but you can restore your knee and return to sports. Solid physical therapy for these injuries is an important part of this process. Our teams at Castle Pines Physical Therapy and Cherry Creek Physical Therapy will help you with every step of your recovery so you can get back to enjoying you activities and sports again. Call (303) 805-5156 or use our website to make an appointment with us.