What is the Difference Between an ACL and MCL Tear?

man with knee injury

An ACL or MCL tear can be a seriously debilitating knee injury. Many people commonly believe these two knee injuries are interchangeable, however there are many differences.

What is the ACL and the MCL?

The ACL and the MCL are both ligaments in your knee. Both support and stabilize the knee.

ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament that keeps your shinbone from sliding forward.
MCL is the medial collateral ligament that prevents your femur from sliding from side to side.

A knee injury can damage either of these ligaments. ACL and MCL tears are the most common injuries. Once the ligament sustains damage, the support and stabilization to the knee they provide is compromised.

What is an ACL Tear?

An ACL tear is an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament, and this can cause swelling and pain. A torn ACL left untreated can potentially cause further injury.

ACL tears are common injuries among athletes who pivot and jump. Sports athletes, such as football, basketball, and soccer players commonly experience ACL tears.

What is an MCL Tear?

A tear to the MCL is typically the result of a direct blow to the knee. Athletes who participate in contact sports are particularly vulnerable to this type of knee injury. A direct hit to the outer part of the knee can tear the MCL.

What Are the Symptoms of an ACL Injury?

The symptoms of an ACL tear include:

  • An audible popping sound when the tear occurs.
  • Knee swelling within six hours of injury that can be severe.
  • Pain when walking or turning on your injured leg.
  • Your knee feels unstable as if it’s going to collapse underneath you.

What Are the Symptoms of an MCL Injury?

The symptoms of an MCL tear include the symptoms of an ACL injury, but in addition, you may experience a catching or locking in the knee joint.

What Are the Causes of ACL Tears?

ACL injuries can happen when athletes change direction suddenly or twist without moving their feet. ACL tears can also occur when a person slows down abruptly or stumbles when landing from a jump.

Gender can be a factor regarding ACL injuries. Women's ACL genes that control specific proteins related to ligament structure and integrity work differently than men.

What Are the Causes of MCL Tears?

MCL injuries can happen when an athlete collides with another athlete from the side. Also, MCL tears can happen in athletes when the players make quick turns and stops.

If someone falls and the lower leg spreads out, this type of fall can produce an MCL tear. Repeated stress can also cause an MCL injury because the stress can cause the MCL to lose its normal elasticity and become loose.

Treatment for Ligament Tears

Ligament injuries can sometimes be treated with conservative options, which include:

  • R.I.C.E: Rest, Ice, Elevation, Compression
  • Physical therapy
  • Strengthening exercises

If conservative options fail, repair surgery, including knee arthroscopy, may be needed. It’s important to consult with an experienced orthopedic surgeon to discuss all of your options. Most ligament tears need surgery to correct them unless they are only partially torn. Surgery is usually needed for people who participate in sports or who lead active lifestyles.

If you suspect an ACL or MCL injury, make an appointment today at Specialty Orthopedics of Harrison, NY. Our practice offers the most innovative conservative and surgical treatments for a variety of issues, including ACL and MCL tears.

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