Knee injuries are one of the most frequently injured joints in the body within the United States, especially in the athletic population. One of the most common knee injuries is an injury to the Medial Collateral Ligament of the MCL. The MCL can be involved in complex injuries that also involve other ligaments such as the ACL or as an isolation injury.
The isolated MCL injury occurs at a rate of 7.3 per 1000 people with an almost equal percentages amongst men and women. It may also be injured in more complex injuries that involve the ACL or meniscus, and can be part of the “unhappy triad.”
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If you have pain on the inside of your knee after a fall, collision, or a twisting injury then you have come to the right place.
Comparison Table of MCL Knee Braces
|Name||Picture||Price||Best Feature||Our rating||Best Price|
|DonJoy Performance Bionic Knee Brace||$$$||Absolute fantastic knee brace - my personal brace at home||9.7/10||See Current Price|
|Zamst ZK-7 Knee Brace||$$||Excellent lightweight knee brace thats great for playing sports with||9.5/10||See Current Price|
|Shock Doctor Maximum Support||$$||Maximum support in a knee brace - best for severe and moderate MCL tears||9.6/10||See Current Price|
|Vive Hinged Knee Brace||$$||Less bulky than the other options and is easy to adjust||9.3/10||See Current Price|
|Bracoo Adjustable Knee Brace||$||Least Expensive option on the list and easy to use||9.2/10||See Current Price|
What is the MCL?
The MCL is one of the major ligaments that support the knee. The MCL runs on the inside of the knee by connecting the Femur (thigh bone) to the (Tibia) shin bone.
The MCL’s primary job is to prevent sideways or lateral movement of the knee joint. It is under strain when subjected to external forces from the outside of the knee or when pivoting.
When a force comes from the outside of the knee it stretches the ligaments on the inside of the knee. If the force is great enough, it can cause tearing or fraying of the ligament. It also does play an important role in rotational stability to help to control forces when changing directions.
Different Grades of MCL sprains
MCL sprains come in 3 grades; Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3. Each grade depends on the extent of the tear.
Grade 1 MCL Sprain
- The grade 1 tear is the mildest out of all 3 grades. In this grade, there is usually no swelling observed just minimal pain is felt in the knee.
- These will usually heal within 1-3 weeks and rarely needs bracing
Grade 2 MCL Sprain
- Grade 2 on the other hand, leads to swelling and a pronounced tenderness is felt along with the MCL and inside the knee.
- This may cause limping, pain with running, and stairs
- This may benefit from light bracing if returning to sport early or there is a feeling of giving out
- Will usually heal within 2-4 weeks
Grade 3 MCL Sprain
- Grade 3 stands out as the most severe out of all 3 grades. It usually involves a complete tear of the ligaments leading to varying degrees of pain.
- This may also lead to feeling of the knee giving away during stairs or walking. Limping is common.
- This injury usually take 6-10 weeks to heal depending on the severity and usually responds well to bracing
The good news is that MCL injuries usually heal on their own and rarely require surgery unless it is injured in combination with other ligaments or the Meniscus.
Although it will take a couple of days or months depending on the grade of the tear.
What to Look for When Purchasing an MCL Brace
An MCL brace can be really helpful in the event of an MCL sprain. When purchasing you want to consider some important aspects:
- Does the brace have enough stability on the inside of the knee? Some “one size fits all” braces don’t always have the best medial stability. Does it have too much stability? If your tear is minor the full hinged brace may only get in the way.
Ease of Use:
- How easy it is to use? Can you take it on and off quickly yet still get the right amount of stability? Is it easy to wash? Is it going to retain odor?
- Is the brace comfortable? If it’s not comfortable there is much less of a chance that you will wear it even when you should be.
- If you have ever read any of our review posts before you know that we love warranties. If it doesn’t work right, or it simply isn’t quite what you wanted then want to help make sure that you get your money back. Your satisfaction is our primary goal.
Will an MCL Tear Heal on Its Own?
Yes, an MCL tear can heal on its own after a few weeks of activity modification and rehabilitation. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take up to 3 months to fully heal. You may need surgery if there is a complete MCL tear or what’s also a Grade 3 Sprain.
One important note about MCL and ligament healing is that it does not respond as well to complete rest. So even though you should modify your activities and refrain running jumping, cutting, and twisting, light activity is actually good to speed up healing.
This might involve going for daily walks, riding your bike and start a light body weight squat progression to speed up healing. You can use pain during and the response after the activity to know if you have done too much. Pain a great guide for this type of injury.
Best Knee Brace for Skiing with an MCL Tear
If you have an MCL tear that causes knee instability then it is a good idea to wear a knee brace while skiing. You can wear the knee brace under most ski pants or over the top of the pants to get stability.
Wearing a knee brace while skiing helps stabilize the knee while going into the powder or skiing moguls while decreasing the risk for further injuring the knee. There is research that shows an MCL tear can predispose people to ACL tears during future activities.
For harder activities such as skiing, we recommend a brace with moderate or high stability.
The top two MCL braces for skiing are:
Why Does the MCL Heal Faster than the ACL?
The MCL is a smaller ligament with more blood supply than the ACL. The ACL sits deep within the joint and does not have the available blood flow to help repair itself. In contrast, the MCL is on the outside of the joint or extra-articular with adequate blood flow to help the MCL heal properly.
Even though MCL tears do heal, it still takes quite a bit of time for ligaments to fully heal. Plan on 8-12 weeks for MCL tears to full heal and provide normal stability at levels similar prior to the injury.
How Long Should You Wear an MCL Brace
This depends on the severity of the injury but typically we recommend wearing an MCL brace for 4-12 weeks after the injury. If you have a mild or grade 1 MCL tear then you can expect to wear an MCL knee brace closer to 4-6 weeks. There is even some research that wearing an MCL brace longer than 4 weeks in grade 1 MCL tears actually slows down recovery.
If you have a grade 2 MCL sprain, plan on wearing the knee brace between 6-10 weeks depending on a few factors on what you do for work and activities you are trying to get back to. The stronger and more stabile you are able to get the knee in physical therapy or with home exercises the less length of time you’ll have to wear the knee brace.
Finally, grade 3 or complete tears of the MCL typically wear their knee brace for 12 weeks or longer. With a complete MCL tear, the medial or inside of the knee joint becomes unstable during dynamic activities such as running, jumping, or playing sports so it’s best to wear a brace to prevent injuries to other ligaments of the knee. After 12 weeks, grade 3 MCL sprains may also want to wear a knee brace whenever they are doing intense activities until their knees and hips are strong enough to support the knee.
Does an MCL Tear Require Surgery?
Typically, most grade 1-2 MCL tears do not require surgery and will heal with time, physical therapy, and bracing.
If you have a grade 3 MCL tear then a doctor may recommend surgery to repair the ligament as the research shows that these may results in long term instability of the knee without surgical intervention.
Most doctors will refer their patients to physical therapy for 4-6 weeks first before considering surgery. It’s still common that doctors will give mcl patients physical therapy to see how far they can progress without surgery. Even if you do physical therapy and still need surgery, research shows that getting more range of motion and improving strength to will lead to faster and better outcomes after surgery.
Do You Need to Wear a Knee Brace After MCL Surgery?
Typically you will need to wear a knee brace after an MCL reconstruction. These braces are typically given to you by the surgeon in case they want to lock or prevent your knee from bending too much after surgery.
These post-op braces are worn for anywhere from 4-6 weeks after surgery. After that point, you can go back to wearing one of the stability braces listed in this article as you return back to sporting activities.
The 5 Best Knee Braces for MCL Tears
DonJoy Performance Bionic Knee Brace
Summary: The DonJoy brace is one of our favorites. It’s made from the highest quality material that is really comfortable for the skin.
It comes with hinges on both sides of the knee providing the needed support. This brace is incredibly easy to use and take on/off. Perfect for the person with mild to moderate MCL sprains that wants a long-lasting durable brace.
Zamst ZK-7 Knee Brace
Summary: The Exo-Tech Quad brace is a great lightweight option. It offers moderate support without being too bulky and getting in the way. This is less bulky without the metal side hinges.
This is perfect for returning to sport after a ligamentous injury. Good breathability and provides the ability to tighten as much as needed for individual fit. No warranty is mentioned but contact Zamst if needed.
Shock Doctor Knee Brace
Summary: The shock doctor knee brace is another favorite of ours. It’s one of the best overall supporting braces on the market.
It is bulkier than some of the others but best for those that have a moderate or greater ligament strain. Despite the full support, it is breathable, soft, and comfortable to wear. Make sure to measure correctly and maybe even order a size up when ordering.
Vive Hinged Knee Brace
Summary: The Vive hinged knee brace provides some great features. It has great support through aluminum hinges on both sides of the brace. The unique part of the hinges is that they are removable and can be used without the hinges.
The hinges provide the MCL with the greatest support but this is a cool option. This is best for those looking for moderate to more support yet without a large bulky brace. This is also lightweight using latex-free neoprene and comes with a 60-day no-questions-asked guarantee.
Bracoo Knee Stabilizer
Summary: The Bracoo Knee brace is a great low-cost option. It has a stabilizer on each side of the knee brace that allows for firm support during movement and activities.
This brace is lightweight and very breathable as compared to most braces with the open patella and open back of the knee design. It is easily adjustable for different leg sizes with the Velcro straps. This brace is great for mild to moderate strains and is small enough to put into a purse or in a gym bag.
The MCL is a ligament that connects the Femur to the Tibia on the inside of the knee joint. It’s important for stabilizing the inside of the knee joint.
Once it becomes injured, the MCL does benefit from wearing a stabilizing knee brace for a short period of time. These braces are also great to wear with harder activities such as skiing or playing cutting sports.
We’ve reviewed our favorite over-the-counter knee braces for MCL tears and sprains that you can buy and save money.
- Image from: https://www.absolutelifewellnesscenter.com/acl-vs-mcl-pcl/
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.