MCL Tears Vs. ACL Tears

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is along the inside of your knee, while the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is deep within the center of your knee. Your MCL keeps your knee from bending too far inward and provides it stability, while your ACL helps to keep your knee steady and prevents it from rotating too much.

MCL tears typically occur during rigorous physical activity, oftentimes from contact injuries during sports like football or soccer. A tear occurs when the knee is hit directly from the outer side. This stretches the ligament and can cause tearing of various degrees.

When your knee is suddenly twisted or dislocated, an ACL tear can happen. This can be a contact injury or happen simply during pivoting or twisting maneuvers. Often, you will hear or feel a popping sound if you tear your ACL, although this is not specific. Pain can occur immediately with significant swelling, and it can be difficult to straighten out your knee. Other times, the pain may be more gradual over a few hours with delayed swelling.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between an MCL and ACL tear because they can share many symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Bruising
  • Inflammation
  • Intense pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • A feeling of instability or giving out

The biggest difference between the two tears is that most MCL injuries can be treated without surgical intervention, including the utilization of braces, physical therapy, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. Many ACL injuries require surgery to stabilize the knee. Additionally, these two ligaments can be injured together, in which case, it is important that you seek evaluation with one of our sports knee experts.

Our knee experts will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for you. They will always consider nonsurgical treatments first. If nonsurgical treatments do not alleviate the pain, surgery can be performed.

If you are experiencing knee pain or think you have torn your MCL or ACL, schedule an appointment online with one of our knee surgeons at Orthopedic Associates or call (314) 569-0612.