The knee is a complex joint which makes it highly prone to an injury. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) runs along the inner edge of the knee and connects the thighbone to the shinbone.
Its main purpose is to stabilize the knee joint and assist in any form of movement like walking and running. When hit directly, the MCL can strain or tear causing an injury.
The damage is caused when the outer knee is hit directly while playing a contact sport like football, hockey etc. The MCL stretches too far out causing a strain/tear. This can also happen when the knee is suddenly pushed to the side or bends out too far. The knee is often slightly flexed at the time of an injury.
The damage caused leads to the knee over-extending or to bend in a direction that it is not supposed to making the joint unstable. This causes pain.
MCL injuries can be classified into 3 types:
- Grade 1: Not very severe. The MCL is strained but not torn. This takes only a few days to recover.
- Grade 2: The ligament is partially torn which causes instability. This can take up to four weeks to recover from.
- Grade 3: Severe injury. He MCL is completely torn and the knee joint is very unstable. Attributing to the severity of the injury, the recovery time can be as long as eight weeks or more.
MCL when injured hurts. Some of the common symptoms to determine the injury include:
- A pop sound may be heard at the time of injury
- Pain experienced along the inside edge of the knee
- Instability while walking/wobbly knees
- Locked knee joint
The best thing to do is to rest it immediately after an injury. Icing the swollen knee helps in bringing down the swelling and pain.
Once the swelling and pain go away, start rehabilitation exercises to ensure that the muscles don’t get stiff and get stronger to minimize the risk of another injury.
Rehab exercises for MCL:
Before starting any rehab, it is advisable to get an expert opinion on the injury. These exercises, help in regaining muscle strength and helps an athlete get back to the field.
- Quadricep contractions: Sit on the floor with legs extended straight in front of you. Squeeze your quad muscles by pressing the knee to the floor. Repeat 15-20 times.
- Straight leg raises: In the same sitting position as above, raise the leg (few inches off the floor) one at a time to work on the quad muscles. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and perform 10-15 repetitions on each leg.
- Standing knee flexion: In a standing position, bend the knee against gravity. This works on strengthening the hamstrings. 15-20 repetitions on each side.
- Calf raises: Once the pain is gone and weight bearing is possible, perform calf raises by getting up on your tiptoes. Start with both feet and slowly progress to one leg at a time. 15-20 repetitions on both sides.
- Knee extensions with ankle weights: Sit on a chair with light ankle weights. Start by extending the right leg straight out in front o you and alternate with the left leg. 10 repetitions on each side.
These are a few exercises that will help in regaining strength in the knee. The focus of rehabilitation should be to ensure that the muscle activation is happening. Choosing an exercise is secondary. If you are feeling the correct muscles working, you will be back to your sport in no time.
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