ACL vs MCL

When it comes to medical terms, we are used to hearing an alphabet soup. ACL this, MCL that, TMJ, ADHD, PTSD, PMS. Unless you work in the medical profession or know someone who suffers from one of these conditions, it can be confusing when you are first diagnosed with a combination of letters.

The purpose of this blog is to point out the differences between an ACL tear and an MCL tear. While they’re both ligaments located around our knees, they have different purposes, and the pain from an injury to one or the other will manifest on different parts of the knee. Also, one will likely need surgery, while the other one rarely does.

The Basics of Knee Ligaments Anatomy

To fully understand the function of each ligament, it’s useful to have a refresher course on basic knee anatomy.

Our knees are composed of the bottom part of the femur (the thigh bone), the patella (the kneecap), and the top portion of the tibia (shin bone). They are held together by soft tissue (ligaments and tendons).

The names of these ligaments are:

  • Medial Collateral (MCL)
  • Lateral Collateral (LCL)
  • Anterior Cruciate (ACL)
  • Posterior Cruciate (PCL)

What Is an ACL Tear?

ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament. It’s located diagonally in the front of your knees, connecting the femur to the tibia and providing stability to the knees when you rotate your legs. It is also the most injured ligament while playing sports.

When a person suffers from an ACL tear, he or she will immediately experience knee pain. Because it’s not something that occurs gradually, the person will generally be able to trace it back to a specific incident.

When a person gets an ACL tear, they usually hear a popping sound as soon as the tear happens. The tear can be partial or complete (when the tendon is completely severed). If a person suffers a complete tear, their entire knee joint becomes unstable.

ACL Tear Risk Factors

The following are risk factors for ACL tears:

  • Playing sports
  • Trauma (fall or accident)
  • Landing from a jump incorrectly
  • Changing directions quickly
  • Stopping suddenly
  • Age

The sports don’t even have to be contact sports, since the majority of ACL injuries happen due to the person landing on one leg or pivoting too fast. However, it is common for people playing football, rugby, or lacrosse, to get slammed into while their feet are planted in place, which is another common way of suffering from this type of injury.

ACL Tear Symptoms

The following are symptoms of an ACL tear:

  • Sudden, sharp pain
  • Swollen knee
  • Tenderness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Feeling the knee “give out”
  • Pain while walking
  • Inability to fully extend the injured leg

ACL Tear Treatment Options

Which treatment to receive depends on the patient’s activity level. For example, an athlete or someone who has an active lifestyle will need surgery to get back to their pre-injury quality of life. On the other hand, someone who’s older and who’s fine being sedentary may obtain relief from more conservative methods, such as physical therapy and/or wearing a brace.

Prior to surgery, the patient should ice the knee and keep it elevated.

What Is an MCL Tear?

MCL stands for Medial Collateral Ligament. It’s located on the inner side of your knees. MCL tears are usually caused by trauma to the outside of the knee, either from a fall, an accident, or from playing contact sports.

MCL Tear Risk Factors

Since this type of injury is usually caused by contact sports, if you play any of the activities listed below, you have an increased risk of experiencing an MCL tear:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Rugby
  • Hockey
  • Wrestling
  • Any activity that requires a lot of pivoting, such as figure skating

MCL Tear Symptoms

Just as with an ACL tear, you may hear a popping sound when the injury occurs.

Some of the most common symptoms of an MCL tear include:

  • Pain on the inner side of the knee
  • Feeling the knee “give out”
  • Swelling
  • The knee feels unstable
  • Pain when putting weight on the knee
  • Locked knee

MCL Tear Treatment Options

The good news is an athlete who suffers an MCL tear will be able to return to playing their sport of preference. It’s also good to know most MCL injuries heal on their own.

The injured person should also follow the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation of the knee. And although the need for surgery is unlikely, you should still go to the doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today

At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If a knee injury is preventing you from doing the things you love, let us help you.

Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.

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