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  • Writer's pictureDr. Terrell Joseph

Knee Injuries in Skiers: MCL Tears

With the ski season in full swing, Eagle and Summit County residents and visitors are taking full advantage of the frequent snowstorms by hitting the slopes. However, along with an exhilarating day full of powder, groomers, bumps, and tree runs comes the potential risk of knee injuries — the most common of which is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear.

Here’s what you need to know about recognizing a torn MCL, plus tips to help keep you injury-free this winter.

What Causes MCL Tears in Skiers?

Your MCL is a band of tissue on the inner side of your knee that prevents it from extending too far inward and helps provide stability during movement. If the knee twists too far with force or absorbs an impact from the outer side of the leg, the MCL can stretch or tear.

MCL injuries on the slopes can happen to anyone who falls or lands awkwardly from a jump, but they are most common in beginners because they frequently use the snowplow position to slow or stop. With the ski tips pointing toward each other, the knees are in a more vulnerable, bowed position. The force from a fall or collision can cause the knees to more easily hyperextend inward.

Did I Tear My MCL?

The symptoms of an MCL injury can vary from mild to severe, depending on whether the ligament is stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. These may include:

  1. Pain that is localized on the inner side of your knee

  2. Tenderness on the inside of your knee

  3. A popping sound or sensation when the injury occurs

  4. Swelling or bruising

  5. Feeling like your knee is going to “give out” if you stand on it

  6. Experiencing a locking or catching during certain movements

  7. Difficulty bending or fully straightening your leg

Will I Need Surgery for a Torn MCL?

In the majority of cases, MCL tears don’t require surgery because of the ligament’s strong capability to heal on its own; however, they all need some level of care.

MCL injuries are graded on a scale of 1 to 3, depending on the amount of damage to the ligament.

  • Grade 1 is a mild injury where the MCL has been stretched but not torn

  • Grade 2 is a moderate injury where the MCL has been partially torn

  • Grade 3 is a severe injury and involves a complete tear of the MCL

Dr. Joseph is an orthopaedic surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery who specializes in knee ligament sprains and tears. He will accurately diagnose your injury and develop a treatment plan based on your injury’s severity and personal outcome goals.

Whenever possible, he will recommend conservative methods, which may include:

  • Rest, ice, compression, and elevation

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Knee brace or crutches

  • Physical therapy

  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections

Although many people do heal fully with nonsurgical treatment, Dr. Joseph may recommend surgery to ensure the best outcome for your lifestyle and activity level in cases where:

  • There is a complete tear off of the tibia side of the MCL (tears off of the fibula side are more common and don't usually require surgery)

  • There is significant instability

  • There are other ligament injuries

  • Conservative treatment methods have been ineffective

Preventing MCL Injuries on the Slopes

No matter what level of skier or rider you are, here are three easy strategies to reduce your chances of a knee injury:

  1. Take a Lesson. Not only will a certified instructor up your ski game, but they can also teach you how to fall correctly to reduce your risk of a knee injury.

  2. Listen to Your Body. If you start to feel fatigued, it’s time to take a break or call it a day. Most injuries that Dr. Joseph sees occur at the end of the day or after a few days of skiing.

  3. Stay in Control. Going fast is fun, but it can also increase your chances of losing control or colliding with another skier or tree. Take the time to work on your technique, stay aware of your surroundings and changing snow conditions, and then gradually increase your speed when comfortable.

Knee Injury? Contact Vail’s Leading Orthopaedic Knee Specialist Today.

If you hurt your knee skiing in Eagle or Summit County, contact Dr. Joseph at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery today. He and his team are well-known for their expertise in treating on-mountain injuries in both locals and visitors.

With same-day and urgent care appointments always available, Dr. Joseph will be able to accurately diagnose your injury and work with you to design a treatment plan that gets you back to skiing as quickly as possible.

Call (970) 476-7220 to make an appointment in Vail, Edwards, or Frisco. You can also submit an appointment request or ask Team Joseph a question using their online form.

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