Inside our knees are the largest and most complex sets of joints within the human body. Together, the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in our knees provide us with the power to jump, twist, sprint, balance, and more. Two of the ligaments responsible for those abilities are the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments provide stability in your knee joint and keep the bones around your knee in place.
What is the MCL?
Your MCL is the ligament that connects your femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). It is located on the inside of your knee joint. It resists widening of the inside of your knee joint.
What is the LCL?
The LCL connects your femur to your fibula, the smaller bone in your lower leg, also called the calf bone. This ligament prevents excessive side-to-side movement of the knee joint.
How to Spot Injuries to the MCL or LCL
These ligaments can be damaged through sprains or tears. If you injure either of these joints, you may experience any of the following:
- weakness or instability in the knee.
- pain and tenderness.
- decreased range of motion.
- issues bearing weight.
You may also hear a pop at the time of the injury, or a popping sound when you try to move the joint.
Common Causes of Injuries
These ligaments can be sprained during athletic activity. If another player applies force to the outside of your knee and forces the joint into an unnatural angle, a sprain is a possible result. MCL and LCL injuries can also happen when you catch your foot on the ground and try to turn to the side at the same time. The extra stress overextends the joint.
People who play contact sports such as football, or sports that involve running and jumping like basketball, are at a higher risk for MCL and LCL injuries.
These ligaments are often damaged as part of a complex knee injury that involves the ACL or PCL, as well.
What to Do If You’ve Injured Your MCL or LCL
What you should do about an MCL or LCL injury depends largely on the severity of your knee injury. With a minor sprain that affects only a few knee ligament fibers, you can often take care of your knee at home. Treatments that can make you more comfortable while your knee heals include:
- the RICE method (resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the affected joint).
- stabilizing your knee with a knee brace.
- taking aspirin or ibuprofen for pain and swelling.
You may be instructed to keep weight off the affected knee while you are healing. This can involve using crutches to get around so you avoid using your knee until it can safely bear weight.
For more severe injuries, it is best to see your doctor to have the injury assessed. They may wish for you to engage in physical therapy to help with healing.
With severe sprains or tears, surgery is often needed to repair the ligaments.
How to Prevent MCL and LCL Injuries
When it comes to joint injuries, prevention is key. While some knee injuries are the result of trauma that can’t be prevented, these actions can help you keep your MCL and LCL safer and healthier:
- warm up before engaging in athletic activities.
- do strength training to build the muscles around your knees. These include your calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Strength exercises that can help include leg extensions, squats, hamstring curls, and calf raises.
- strength training that addresses the hips and your core muscles can also provide greater stability in general.
- wear shoes that are comfortable and fit well.
- avoid running on uneven, rocky, or slippery surfaces.
- practice good body mechanics when jumping, landing, cutting, and pivoting.
- allow your body to recover in between intense training sessions.
Good body and situational awareness can help protect you against injuries to your MCL, LCL, and other joints. By being aware of your abilities and the risks in your environment, you can cut your chances of injuring these essential ligaments.