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Difference between an ACL Tear and MCL Tear

05-31-2019 08:48 AM CET | Health & Medicine

Press release from: Phoenix Shoulder & Knee

Knee injuries are very common among athletes and individuals with an active lifestyle. One of the most common sports injuries to the knee are tears in the ACL or the MCL.

The knee is a complicated joint. A number of muscles, bones and ligaments, along with the joint, work together to help you move. However, a tear in the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) or MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) can restrict motion and function and keep an athlete away from the game for many months, even an entire season.

While the the two knee injuries may sound similar, they are quite different. Being aware of the difference between the two can help you make an informed decision about the treatment option. Your orthopedic surgeon is likely to recommend surgery followed by physical therapy if you have an extensive tear in any of your knee ligaments.

Your knee joint is formed by –

• 3 bones – the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone) and patella (kneecap)
• 4 ligaments – ACL, PCL, LCL and MCL, that connect the bones by acting like strong cords and keep the knee stable

Collateral Ligaments

The collateral ligaments – Medial Collateral ligament (MCL) is on the inside and the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) is on the outside of your knee. They control the sideward motion of the knee and brace it against unusual movement.

Cruciate Ligaments

The cruciate ligaments - Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) cross each other in the front and back of the knee to form an "X". They control the back and forth motion of your knee.

What is an ACL Tear?

The ACL keeps the knee stable and doesn’t allow it to turn too much. It also prevents the tibia from overextending itself. An ACL injury is typically the result of a sudden twist of the knee or a dislocation.

The ACL tear typically occurs with a ‘popping’ sound, followed soon by pain and swelling, within an hour or two. Walking becomes difficult, the knee feels unstable and you may not be able to fully straighten your knee.

What is an MCL Tear?

The MCL prevents the leg from extending too inward and allows the knee to rotate. MCL tears may occur during a strenuous activity, such as playing soccer. MCL injuries are often the result of the knee being hit directly on its outer side. This may stretch the ligaments on the inside of the knee too far, causing tearing.

When you experience an MCL injury, you may feel –

• pain, swelling and bruising on the inside of the knee
• knee stiffness
• difficulty or pain while bending or straightening the knee
• a feeling that the knee buckle or may give out
• pain or difficulty walking, sitting down, rising from a chair or climbing stairs

Spot the Difference

While both a torn ACL and a torn MCL exhibit similar symptoms, like pain, swelling and inflammation, the main difference between the two is that an ACL tear occurs with a distinctive ‘popping’ sound but an MCL tear does not.

Treatment for ACL and MCL Tears

For an MCL tear, the recovery may take up to 8 weeks or more with rehabilitation. On the other hand, an ACL tear may require surgery and at least 6 months or more of rehabilitation. Remember that both are serious injuries that should be thoroughly assessed and treated by an orthopedic surgeon.

To learn more about orthopedic treatments, call one of the best orthopedic doctors in Phoenix AZ, call Phoenix Shoulder and Knee at 480-219-3342. Dr. Adam Farber is a Fellowship Trained, Board Certified Phoenix and Scottsdale orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine.

Phoenix Shoulder & Knee
1215 W Rio Salado Parkway
Suite 105, Tempe, AZ 85281
(480) 219-3342

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