What is the difference between an ACL vs MCL Injury?

Knee injury is a common but debilitating injury and can affect your everyday life and cause problems for months if not treated correctly. The knee is a complex joint formed by the femur, tibia, and patella bone, and is held together by four primary ligaments that give you mobility and keep your knees stable. When the knee is seriously injured, it is usually one of the two major ligaments that hold your knee together. These ligaments are known as the medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the sides of your knee or the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) located on the front and back. Differentiating between the two ligaments can be tricky but crucial for finding the right treatment option. To help you identify which ligament may have been injured, we have created this resource that lists some identifying traits to help.

What is an ACL Injury?

The ACL is the ligament that controls the back-and-forth movement of the knee and works to stabilize it. When the ACL is strained or torn, it is usually from a sudden twisting motion or dislocation, and there is typically a loud popping noise associated with it. An ACL tear is most common amongst football, basketball, and soccer players. There is usually pain and swelling followed by difficulty walking, feeling unstable, and difficulty with fully extending the knee.

What is an MCL Injury?

The MCL is on the inner side of the knee, and its primary function is to prevent overextension and over rotation and to stabilize the joint. Strains, sprains, and tears of the MCL are often caused by direct hits to the outside of your knee, causing the inside to stretch. This commonly occurs during intense sports such as football or rugby. Pain is usually felt in the inner side of the knee, followed by bruising and swelling. If the MCL is torn, you will feel stiffness, difficulty bending/straightening the knee, and it will feel as if it is about to give out whenever you try to walk.

How to Tell the difference between an ACL vs MCL Injury

It can be difficult to tell the difference between ACL and MCL symptoms as they can look and feel the same, such as pain and swelling and difficulty walking. There are two key differences:

• ACL tears tend to have a distinctive popping sound when the injury occurs.
• MCL tears will see bruising mainly on the inner side of the knee. Because it can still feel like an ACL tear, it’s important to look out for the popping sound.

(Remember a physiotherapist is trained to identify the source of injury and develop a treatment plan for recovery).

Treatment Options

There are three forms of conservative treatment used to treat an ACL or MCL injury, which include:
• Physical Therapy
• Rest, Ice, Elevation, Compression (RICE)
• Strengthening Exercises

Usually, if treated right away by a trained physiotherapist, an ACL or MCL injury will be able to heal effectively, and you will be back to your everyday life in no time. If initial treatment does not work, additional assessment for surgery may be required for severe cases. It’s best to consult with a physiotherapist for a full assessment and diagnosis to develop a treatment plan.

Do I need a referral from my doctor?

Not necessarily. Physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat Musculo-skeletal injuries such as ACL and MCL strains, sprains, or tears. If further diagnostics are required, then the physiotherapist will recommend an appointment with your GP (doctor) who will then request an X-ray or MRI.

If you are suffering from a knee injury and are looking for a proper diagnosis, contact us by calling 604-332-4476 or filling out a contact form here