What is the Recovery Like After an MCL Injury?
Patients with an MCL tear are usually placed in a hinged brace. For Grade 1 MCL tears, a small, over the counter brace is sufficient. For Grade 3 MCL tears, a large, special hinged brace is recommended. A knee brace is worn for 2-4 weeks in Grade 1 tears, 6 weeks for Grade 2 tears, and 6-8 weeks for Grade 3 tears. At the end of one’s bracing period, the knee should be re-examined by your orthopedist to determine if the MCL has healed well in the brace.
For patients who require MCL surgery, some tear patterns are amenable to simply stretching the torn and retracted MCL back to its normal attachment site and securing it in place. However, more often an MCL reconstruction is indicated. In this surgery, a donor tendon is used to reinforce your stretched out MCL, sewing the donor tendon into your injured MCL and fixating the donor tendon to the normal MCL attachment sites on the femur and the tibia. Patients go home the same day in a hinged brace. Range of motion exercises can be started immediately. However, no weight bearing is allowed for 4 weeks, as this stresses the MCL reconstruction. At 4 weeks, partial weight bearing is started and one can bear full weight at 6 weeks after MCL reconstruction surgery. Physical therapy is prescribed after surgery, with one going 2 times per week for 2-3 months. By 8 weeks from surgery, one can ride on a bike outdoors. By 10-12 weeks, one can run. Most patients are able to return to full activities, including cutting and pivoting sports, by 12-14 weeks. A sports knee brace may be recommended to help prevent reinjury, once cleared for high level athletics. Dr. Cunningham is a knee specialist at Vail Summit Orthopedics and Neurosurgery. He is an expert at diagnosing and treating MCL tears for patients in Vail, Summit County, Aspen, and Denver, CO.