Knee sprains of the MCL or medial collateral ligament seem to be on the rise in competitive ice hockey. High profile Anaheim Ducks players Cam Fowler, Corey Perry and Ryan Miller have all suffered this injury in the last two seasons as reported by cbssports.com. The MCL is a ligament that attaches the thigh bone or femur to the shin bone or tibia. It is located on the medial or inside portion of the knee and prevents the knee from buckling inward. The ligament can be stretched or torn when a force is applied to the outside of the knee forcing an inward or valgus movement. The ligament can be stretched, partially torn or fully torn and is classified as a sprain. Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery time is usually two to eight weeks and rarely involves surgery. Signs and symptoms of an MCL sprain may include pain and swelling over the inside of the knee, loss of motion in the knee and a feeling of instability especially as the knee buckles inward.
When suspecting any type of sports injury, it is a good idea to see an Orthopedic Surgeon or Sports Medicine Physician to obtain a diagnosis and then an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist to receive treatment to allow a quick and safe return to the ice. Regaining full range of motion of the knee is important right after injury and can be painful in full flexion or extension as this is when the ligament is placed under the most tension. Range of motion can be regained by performing simple heal slides where the athlete sits on the ground and slides the heal towards and away from the body, flexing and extending the knee. A stationary bike can also be used by moving the pedal forwards and backwards until there is enough motion to get the pedal all the way around. Simple strengthening exercises can also be introduced right away, progressing to single leg strength and stability exercises. It is important to perform more dynamic exercises that mimic what an athlete will experience on the ice prior to returning to skating. The athlete should also integrate back into skating, drills, non-contact and contact practice to ensure a safe return to play.
Chris Phillips is an Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist with over 20 years experience in professional hockey, football and soccer and owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Orange County, CA.