What Is the Difference Between an ACL vs MCL Tear?

acl vs mcl
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Sustaining a knee joint injury can greatly affect one’s mobility and quality of life. This is especially true if you suffer ligament injuries. The ligaments in the knee joint help us maintain our balance, take steps, bend our knees, and much more. Without them, it would be extremely difficult to move around. However, it’s important to remember that ligament tears affect patients differently depending on the ligament affected. So, what is the difference between an ACL vs MCL tear? How do they affect patients differently?

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, we take great pride in helping athletes, hobbyists, and injured patients across the DFW area. Knee injuries are no walk in the park, so we offer personalized treatment plans to all of our patients. This helps to ensure that each person’s recovery process works best for their individual needs. If you sustained a knee injury that’s left you in pain, we’re here for you. To schedule a consultation with the best Dallas orthopedic surgeon, please call our office today at 469-200-2832.

What Is the ACL?

The knee joint contains four major ligaments that help to keep the knee stable. These ligaments are the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament, and the lateral collateral ligament.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four ligaments that help to keep the knee stable. It runs along the middle of the knee, preventing the tibia (lower leg bone) from slipping out in front of the femur (thigh bone). When an ACL injury occurs, you’re likely to hear a loud popping sound. As soon as you suspect an ACL injury, call your orthopedic specialist immediately.

What Is an ACL Tear?

mcl vs acl

An ACL tear occurs when the anterior cruciate ligament suffers a sprain or tear. Most ACL tears happen as a result of sudden stops, quick direction changes, or jumping and landing. Certain sports pose a higher risk of ACL injuries, such as football, soccer, downhill skiing, and basketball. When the ACL tear occurs, you will probably feel or hear a pop, followed by knee pain.

ACL Tear Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of an ACL tear are distinctive. They usually include the following.

If you suspect an ACL injury, contact your doctor right away.

What Is the MCL?

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) runs from the inside of the upper tibia (shin bone) to the inner side of the bottom of the femur (thigh bone). It helps to keep your tibia in the correct position. Most MCL injuries occur as a result of pressure or stress on the outer side of the knee.

What Is an MCL Tear?

MCL tears vary in terms of their degrees and severity. This applies to both ACL and MCL injuries. When these ligaments suffer an injury, they may be stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. In many cases, ACL and MCL tear injuries occur at the same time.

MCL Tear Symptoms

Symptoms of MCL injuries are very similar to the symptoms of ACL injuries. Patients with MCL tears usually have the following symptoms.

  • The knee feels unstable while bearing weight
  • Extreme pain
  • Significant swelling
  • Catching or locking of the knee joint

Did I Tear My ACL or MCL?

mcl and acl tear

You know that you sustained one of these two knee injuries, but how can you tell the difference between the two? On your own, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between ACL and MCL tears. However, there is one major difference between the two. When you suffer an ACL tear, there is a very high chance you will hear or feel a popping sound or sensation. An MCL tear generally will not produce this symptom.

Keep in mind that the only way to know for sure if you sustained an ACL or MCL injury is to speak with an orthopedic specialist. We can perform a physical examination and order imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis before developing a personalized recovery plan for you.

What Causes ACL and MCL Tears?

ACL and MCL tears can both happen from suffering a harsh blow to the knee. They can also happen when someone lands after jumping, quickly changes direction, or stops suddenly. ACL tears and MCL tears are very common in athletes or hobbyists in certain sports. These sports include basketball, football, and soccer. Additionally, women are more likely to sustain ACL tears than men. Repeated stress will weaken the cruciate ligaments and collateral ligaments with time, leaving the joint vulnerable to knee sprains and tears.

Which Is Worse, an ACL Tear or an MCL Tear?

In most cases, ACL tears are more serious than an MCL injury. Oftentimes, an MCL injury can resolve without the need for surgical treatment. However, a torn ACL frequently requires surgical treatment. Not every ligament tear will require surgery. Many ligament tears, if they are mild, can recover from rehabilitation and physical therapy alone.

These common knee injuries may seem like no big deal, but it is extremely important to take good care of your injured knee. Failing to do so could lead to further damage, a worse injury than you started with, and it may require surgery. The longer you wait to seek treatment for your ACL or MCL tear, the worse it will be.

Can You Walk with an ACL or MCL Injury?

If the knee injury is not too severe, you should still be able to walk, although you may need a knee brace to do so. However, expect to feel pain when you bear weight on the injured leg. You should still be able to walk with a sprain or a partial tear, but this may not be possible with a full MCL tear or ACL tear. Consult with your doctor to determine whether or not you can and should walk after a knee injury.

How Long Does It Take a Torn ACL and MCL to Heal?

acl tears

This largely depends on both the severity of the ACL or MCL injury and how well you care for your injury during the recovery period. On average, a ligament tear can take around six weeks to heal. However, severe injuries may require several months of physical therapy before you can get back to fully living your life.

Follow your doctor’s instructions, get plenty of rest, and apply the RICE method to prevent further injury. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the affected knee can alleviate mild pain and provide much-needed time for healing.

Treatment for Torn Ligaments

Depending on the severity of the injury, there are several treatment options, both surgical and nonsurgical. Below, we list some potential treatment methods we may employ for your torn ACL or MCL.

  • RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Using a knee brace
  • PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy
  • Balance training
  • Knee gel injections
  • Knee arthroscopy
  • ACL repair surgery
  • MCL repair surgery

Contact SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy Today

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, our orthopedic specialists take great pride in ensuring that our patients are well taken care of. We make sure to inform our patients of their options, as well as guide them through their treatments and the recovery process. It’s important to make sure that everyone is on the same page so that the process can proceed as smoothly as possible. If you suffered an injury to one of the ligaments in your knee, the SPORT team is here for you. To schedule an appointment with us, please call 469-200-2832 today.