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Joe Burrow Battles MCL Sprain – A Look Into This Injury

  • Mar 14 2022

Joe Burrow, the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, faced tackle after tackle as he attempted to lead his team to the Super Bowl victory. He ultimately fell short, as the Bengals lost to the LA Rams in Super Bowl XVI. But what may have been even scarier for Bengals fans was when he fell down after a hit from Rams’ Von Miller in which his right knee twisted. He played through the injury to finish the game on a strong note, but it was confirmed by head coach Zac Taylor that he did suffer an MCL sprain. As he recovers this offseason, you may be wondering what this injury is and how it is treated.

What is an MCL Sprain?

An MCL sprain is the stretching or tearing of your Medial Collateral Ligament. The MCL connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). In musculoskeletal anatomy, medial is defined as towards the midline of the body and collateral means the ligament is on the side of a joint. So the medial collateral ligament is a ligament, a short band of fibrous connective tissue, located on the inner side of the knee. The main function of the MCL is to protect the knee from external forces that push the knee inwards (outside to inside) while the foot is planted. The MCL also allows the knee to rotate. When the outside forces on the knee overwhelm the strength of the MCL, then an MCL sprain occurs. In football, we see this injury occurring during tackles, when the knee is hit on its outer side, or during side-to-side cutting movements, when the athlete plants a foot then rapidly switches direction. 

How Will the Doctor Diagnose an MCL Sprain?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Common symptoms for an MCL sprain are pain at the inside of the knee, swelling at the site of injury, and instability which is the feeling that your knee is giving way. During the physical exam, your doctor will check the structures of your injured knee and compare them to your non-injured knee. The doctor will examine the MCL to assess pain, swelling, and thickness of the tear. The doctor will also perform a valgus stress test – your knee will be slightly bent, the doctor will place one hand on the outside of the knee and the other hand at the inside of your ankle. Then the doctor will apply an inward (medial)-directed force at the knee and an outward (lateral)-directed force at the ankle. A positive test will show pain and an excessive gap at the knee joint.

The doctor may order imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRI scans. X-ray images will show if the ligament also caused damage to the bone when it was injured. MRI scans will show a clear image of soft tissue structures, such as ligaments. 

What are the Different Types of MCL Sprains?

There are 3 Grades of MCL sprains. Grade 1 MCL sprain is defined as a mild tear in which less than 10 percent of fibers in the ligament are torn. You may experience pain along the ligament. Grade 2 MCL sprain is defined as a moderate tear in which the superficial MCL fibers are torn. The knee will be loose during the physical exam. You’ll experience intense pain and tenderness along the inner side of your knee. Grade 3 MCL sprain is defined as a severe tear in which your superficial and deep MCL are both torn. Your knee will be unstable because the MCL has been torn in half or pulled directly off the bone. 

How is an MCL Sprain Treated?

MCL tears have good outcomes because the MCL has an established blood supply. Most patients recover from MCL sprains without surgery. Surgery may be recommended if your MCL is torn with other structures in your knee. 

Non-surgical treatment may include RICE, taking pain reliever medications, wearing a knee brace, using crutches, and performing physical therapy exercises. The RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method includes resting your knee, icing your knee, wearing an elastic bandage around your knee, and elevating the knee while resting. Your physician may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Wearing a knee brace will protect your knee from side-to-side movement to allow it to heal properly. Using crutches will decrease the amount of stress placed on your MCL. By working with a physical therapist, you will learn exercises that will strengthen your surrounding muscles. By strengthening the muscles that support your knee, you will reduce the stress placed on your knee joint and help your knee joints absorb shock. In severe cases, you may need surgery. The physicians and staff at South Island Orthopedics are dedicated to helping you manage your knee pain and knee injuries

What is the Recovery Time for an MCL Sprain?

Full recovery from an MCL sprain ranges depending on the severity of the injury. A grade 1 MCL tear usually heals within one to three weeks. A grade 2 MCL tear usually heals in four to six weeks. A grade 3 MCL tear usually heals in four to six weeks. If surgery is required, then recovery may take longer. To help you regain full strength, your physician and physical therapist will work to create a rehabilitation plan. Rehabilitation typically focuses on decreasing pain and swelling, restoring range of motion, muscle strength, and endurance, and optimizing neuromuscular coordination. 

If you have questions about MCL sprains or if you are experiencing knee pain, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in state-of-the-art facilities across Long Island. To learn more about how you can benefit from expert orthopedic treatment, call us anytime, or schedule an appointment online.

Posted in: Knee, Sports Medicine