ACL vs MCL tear. What’s the difference?

Ligaments have an important function in the human body. They are strong tissue bands that hold bones together.

Difference Between ACL and MCL Tear

Ligaments have an important function in the human body. They are strong tissue bands that hold bones together. However, they are not impervious to injury. There are four ligaments in the body that are susceptible to trauma. These are the medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collageral ligament (LCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). For this article, the focus will be on ACL and MCL and whether there is a difference between ACL and MCL tear or not.


Judging by the location of these two ligaments, it does not come as a surprise that oftentimes, these two ligaments get mistaken for each other. This is because both ACL and MCL are bands of tissues that connect the shin bone to the thigh bone. The only difference between ACL and MCL tear is that the MCL is found specifically on the inside of the knee. It is important to note that ACL is the ligament that is most commonly injured.

ACL Tear

To better understand the difference between ACL and MCL tear, it is essential to understand what each is separately. To begin with, there is the injury to the ACL. What the ACL does is that stabilizes the knee, stops the tibia from over-stretching itself, and prevents the knee from excessively rotating. This is where the tear can possibly happen. Injuries are the number one cause of an ACL tear. Dislocation and sudden twisting of the knee can all cause this. Before it becomes a full on ACL  tear, you first hear this popping sound which will then be followed by pain and inflammation of affected area, usually around the knee. When this happens, you would need to seek immediate medical advice for proper intervention, better pain management, and quicker recovery.

MCL Tear

Then there is an MCL Tear. As mentioned earlier, the MCL is located on the inside of the knee. Its functioning is to keep the knee joint tight together. Just like ACL, MCL is most commonly injured because of sports and other physically strenuous activities. Accidents can also cause MCL to tear.

Telling the Difference

It is quite tricky to find the difference between ACL and MCL tear. First of all, they share the same symptoms. These include excruciating pain, swelling, inflammation, and even possible bruising. So what is the difference between ACL and MCL tears? It is just the popping sound. ACL has it while MCL does not.


Only the doctor can categorically say the kind of ligament tear that a patient is suffering from.  He/She conducts a physical exam with x-rays as a requirement. This way, the physician can properly identify the kind of knee injury you have. Knowing the problem is the first step towards complete recovery.


While there is a slight difference between ACL and MCL tear, their treatment, for the most part, are the same.

  • Do not over-stress your knee. You need ample periods of rest so that your knee will have the chance to recover from the injury. Steer clear from any activity that will strain your knee even further.
  • To lessen the pain and swelling, you can either put ice on the knee or take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You can put a pack of ice on your knee for twenty to thirty minutes in a three or four hour interval. NSAIDs, on the other hand, come in the form of common medication such ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxyn.
  • You can also raise your knee by propping it up on a pillow when you are lying down or sitting down.
  • A knee brace can also come in handy to stabilize knee movement. You can also use elastic bandage and straps until the swelling is gone.
  • You can also do simple exercises that are not too strenuous. Focus on a lot of stretching because this helps prevent injury as well. Just be careful with how much stress you are currently facing.
  • You could also go to physical therapy. This is the usual progression after surgery.


While only the doctor knows for sure if a person needs surgery or not, MCL is known to be fairly easy to respond to. Dealing with ACL, meanwhile, can be a lot complicated. This might require surgery if you want to heal faster


Another reason why it is not clear if there is a difference between ACL and MCL tears is the fact that it shares the same signs and symptoms. Here are some symptoms of both ACL and MCL:

  • Looseness of joints
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Restricted leg movement due to pain


The best way to handle ACL and MCL tears is to prevent these from ever happening. Here are some ways to prevent such conditions:

  • Stretch before exercises.
  • Do not put on too much weight on your knees.
  • Have some exercises that build up strength particularly for your knees.
  • Be mindful when you do strenuous activities like sports or dancing. Remember, ACL tears can put you on the sidelines for a long period of time so do not be too risky with your actions.

While yes, there is a difference between ACL and MCL tear, it can be prevented if people make wise choices when it comes to movement. However, on the unfortunate occasion that it goes south, see the physician immediately so proper intervention can take place as soon as possible.

Difference Between ACL and MCL Tear

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