Medial Collateral Ligament Sprain

Skiing requires a great deal of endurance and control, which can put a lot of strain on your muscles and joints, especially if you are new to skiing or not properly prepared. Knee injuries are particularly common in skiing, especially amongst female skiers and beginners.

What Does the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Do?

The MCL is found in the knee joint. It connects the inner parts of the shinbone and thighbone together. The MCL is responsible for counteracting the pressure that is exerted on the outer side of the knee during physical activity, which helps to prevent the inner part of the joint from becoming damaged.

How Does a MCL Sprain Occur?

If too much force is placed on the knee, the MCL can become overstretched, which may result in the ligaments getting torn. This is the most common type of injury in alpine skiing, accounting for 25% of all injuries sustained on the slopes. Beginners are especially at risk because when they first start learning to ski, most adopt the 'snowplough' position, with the feet and knees pointed inwards and the legs slightly bent. This stance puts the knees under a lot of strain, making them more vulnerable to injury. An MCL sprain is most likely to occur when an inexperienced skier falls over, their stance widens unexpectedly due to lack of control, or if their skis cross over each other.

What Does a MCL Sprain Feel Like?

There are 3 different levels of MCL sprain and the symptoms depend on how severe the sprain is.

  • 1st level sprains: Several ligament fibres are torn. It will be painful to bend the knee and it will sore to touch. There is usually little or no swelling.
  • 2nd level sprains: More of the fibres are damaged. The knee will be swollen and more painful. You probably won't be able to bend the knee completely.
  • 3rd level sprains: This results to a complete rupture of the MCL. The knee will be extremely painful, swollen and it might feel unstable.

Tips for Preventing a MCL Sprain

Before You Start Skiing

Having lessons to improve your skiing skills will give you more control over your movements on the slopes, which reduces the risk of injury. Doing exercises that build up your leg muscles, especially the quadriceps and hamstrings, will help to take the pressure off your knees. Keeping your weight down will also help to reduce the risk of injury, because the heavier you are, the more pressure there is on the knees.

When You Hit the Slopes

It is a good idea to schedule a rest day into your skiing holiday to give your knees and the rest of your body chance to recover. The best time to do this is the 3rd day in, because fatigue usually sets in after a couple of days, making your body function less efficiently and therefore more susceptible to injury. Keeping limber and stretching before your skiing session will also help to safeguard your knees against injury.

Treatment for a MCL Sprain

Treatment is determined by how serious the sprain is. For 1st and 2nd level sprains wearing a hinged knee brace combined with several weeks of physiotherapy will probably be sufficient to heal the torn ligament. For a 3rd level sprain, which results in a complete rupture of the ligament, reconstructive surgery may be required. Regardless of the severity of your sprain, the RICE technique of rest, ice, compression and elevation should be performed immediately after sustaining the injury to reduce discomfort and inflammation.

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