If you’re living an active life, it’s common to feel some degree of knee pain. That’s why stretching before and after training is so vital to avoiding a serious knee injury. But even if we’re careful, injuries are inevitable.

There are some knee injuries that stem from the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus.

In this blog post, we will discuss the location of meniscus pain vs MCL pain. We will also provide information on treatment for each injury.

Basic Anatomy of the Knee

Before we dive into the meniscus and MCL, let’s first try to understand the anatomy of your knee in the shortest way possible. Now, the knee joint is a hinge type of synovial joint that is formed by the articulation of the following:

  1. thigh bone (femur),
  2. shin bone (tibia),
  3. and the knee cap (patella).

The knee joint also consists of two main parts: the medial compartment, where the medial meniscus is located, and the lateral compartment, where the lateral meniscus is located. In between these two compartments is a thin layer of fibrocartilage called the articular cartilage. This cartilage helps protect the bones providing a smooth surface for movement.


The meniscus is a crescent-shaped shock absorber that sits between the femur and tibia in the knee joint. It helps distribute weight evenly across the joint and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Without the meniscus, the knee joint would be much more susceptible to damage and injury.

An injury to the meniscus is sometimes because a large portion of the meniscus does not have blood flow. Making it unlikely to heal on its own.


The knee is stabilized by two collateral ligaments in the knee joint: the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

The MCL is located on the inside of the knee joint, while the LCL is located on the outside of the knee. Together, these structures work to stabilize the knee joint and protect it from injury.


In addition to the collateral ligaments, there are also two cruciate ligaments in the knee: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

The ACL is located in the middle of the knee joint and prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. The PCL is located behind the ACL and prevents the tibia from sliding too far back.

Location of Meniscus Pain vs MCL

Two of the most common knee injuries are tears to the meniscus and damage to the MCL. Both injuries can cause severe pain and swelling, but there are some key differences between them.

Meniscus Tears

A tear to the meniscus can occur due to a sudden twisting motion of the knee, which leads to a popping noise. This type of tear is classified as either acute or degenerative.

Acute tears are typically more serious, and they may require surgery to repair. Degenerative tears, on the other hand, tend to occur in older adults and can be treated with conservative measures such as rest, ice, and physical therapy.

MCL Tears

MCL tears are prevalent in athletes who participate in contact sports. These injuries happen as a result of a direct blow to the outside of the knee, which is common in football and soccer.

Some of the most famous football athletes, like Jay Cutler or Troy Polamalu, have endured MCL tears. The forceful impact can stretch or tear the MCL ligament. MCL injuries range from mild (Grade I) to severe (Grade III), with Grade III injuries potentially requiring surgery.


ACL tear vs. MCL tear

ACL tears are typically more serious than MCL tears and often require a longer recovery time. This is because the ACL lacks sufficient blood flow to heal on its own. Whereas the MCL generally heals on its own. Both are responsible for stabilizing the knee joint, so a tear can cause the knee to become unstable.

In addition, ACL tears often result in more knee pain than MCL tears. Whether that is due to the injury itself or the painful rehabilitation journey that the athlete has to undergo.

Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the injury, but ACL tears typically take longer to heal than MCL tears. This is why it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may have torn your ACL or MCL.

Assessing Meniscus Pain and MCL Injury

Diagnosing meniscus and medial collateral ligament injuries can be difficult since they have similar symptoms as other types of injuries. Let’s take a look at how each is assessed.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans are used to diagnose meniscus problems or MCL injuries.

Orthopedic surgeons are familiar with treating meniscus problems and MCL injuries. As a result, they are able to provide an effective treatment for both conditions.

To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will first take a thorough medical history and ask about your symptoms. By taking a careful history and performing a physical examination, your doctor can help to ensure that you receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment for the knee injury.

Preventing MCL and Meniscus Injuries

There are a few things you can do to help prevent injuries to the meniscus and MCL in the future.

  1. First, always warm up before participating in any physical activity. This helps loosen your muscles and reduce your risk of injury. Doing some stretches before and after physical activity, or even a brisk walk is enough.
  2. Second, be sure to wear proper shoes that provide support for your feet and ankles. If you don’t, you might also develop another type of pain: bunions.
  3. Third, avoid sudden changes in direction or intensity when participating in physical activity. This means sudden twists, turns, and stops. While not all sudden changes in direction can be avoided, make sure to train appropriately so that when you are in that situation, your body is able to perform safely and effectively.
  4. Fourth, strengthen your leg muscles by doing exercises such as squats and lunges. Stronger leg muscles will help stabilize your knee joint.

Finally, listen to your body and take breaks when you need them. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, stop what you’re doing and rest until the pain goes away. Even if your mind tells you to push on, be mindful of listening and feeling your knees as well.

Treatment Options

As with any injury, there are a number of treatment options you can take to help lessen the discomfort of your knee injury.

Attend Physical Therapy

One of the most common treatment options for meniscus pain and MCL injuries is physical therapy. Physical therapy can help to reduce pain and swelling, increase range of motion, and improve strength and flexibility. A physical therapist will also teach you exercises to do at home.

Get a Knee Brace

Another common treatment option for meniscus pain and MCL injury is a hinged knee brace.

Knee braces are designed to provide support and stability for the knee joint. They can also be worn to prevent knee injuries from occurring. Although the literature doesn’t always support the effectiveness of knee braces in preventing injury, it can provide athletes with additional confidence.

Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation involves using electrical currents to stimulate the muscles and nerves around the knee joint. The process stimulates the production of collagen and other repair proteins to reduce pain and inflammation.

Apply Ice

Ice is a great way to reduce swelling and pain after an injury. It can also help to prevent further damage by reducing inflammation. Ice should be applied to the injured knee for 20 minutes at a time, with at least 1 hour in between each session.

Ice can be applied as soon as possible after the injury occurs and should be used for the first 3–5 days. After that, you can switch to heat if it feels better. Make sure to follow up with your healthcare provider to ensure what type of modality is best for you, depending on your current situation.

Take Medications

There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat meniscus pain and MCL injury. These include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and prescription medication.

Use Crutches

In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on the affected leg. This is typically only recommended for a short period of time until the pain and swelling have decreased.


Surgery is typically only recommended if other treatment options have failed to provide relief. The type of surgery will depend on the severity of the injury. For example, arthroscopic surgery may be used to remove damaged tissue from the knee joint. Or, in more severe cases, open surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the damaged tissue.

With proper treatment, most people with meniscus or MCL injuries can regain their full range of motion and return to their previous level of activity.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

It’s important to feel comfortable asking your doctor questions. After all, they are there to help you! Before your appointment, it can be helpful to write down a list of questions. That way, you won’t forget to ask anything. And if you’re feeling nervous, you can always refer back to your list.

If you’re not sure what kind of questions to ask, here are a few examples:

-What is the name of my knee condition?

-What are the possible causes?

-How will we know if the treatment is working?

-What are the side effects of the medication?

-What are my other treatment options?

-When should I come back for a follow-up appointment?

Asking questions is a great way to clarify things and ensure that you’re getting the care that you need. So don’t be afraid to speak up! Your doctor will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Recovery from Meniscus Pain and MCL Injury

Most people with meniscus or MCL injuries can regain their full range of motion and return to their previous level of activity. However, always follow your doctor’s instructions for care and physical therapy.

Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the injury. For example, more severe injuries may require surgery, which can take several weeks or months to recover from.

In some cases, it may be necessary to use crutches during recovery. With proper treatment, most people can make a full recovery.

Adopt a Positive Mindset During Recovery

As anyone who has undergone surgery can attest, the recovery process from a torn meniscus and MCL sprains is often challenging. Not only does the body need time to heal, but patients also have to contend with the emotional and mental challenges of being sidelined from their usual activities.

It can be easy to become frustrated and discouraged during this time, but it’s essential to try to maintain a positive mindset. Hope is a powerful force, and adopting a positive attitude can make a big difference in the speed and success of your recovery.

Patients who focus on their eventual return to activity through daily incremental, realistic, and objective goals are often able to achieve mobility sooner than those who dwell on their current limitations. So, if you’re facing surgery or rehabilitation, remember to stay positive and keep hope alive; it just might help you recover faster.

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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