Exercises to Strengthen a Strained MCL in the Knee

Your medial collateral ligament, or MCL, is one of four strong bands that stabilize your knee joint. Located on the interior side of your knee, injuries to this area are usually a result of a blow to the outside of the knee. Symptoms of an injured MCL include pain, possible swelling, and a feeling of instability when trying to stand. Depending on the severity of the injury, after addressing the initial trauma, therapeutic exercises may be recommended to rehabilitate and strengthen the knee.

A man is doing the leg extension machine. Credit: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Cardio Rehab

It is best to consult your physician or physical therapist before starting a program, but for low grade injuries, general guidelines apply. According to Mayo Clinic experts, the early stages of rehabilitation are to re-establish full range of motion in the knee. Riding a stationary bike is one way to get started. No resistance or drag is required during the early stages and the seat should only be set as low as you can tolerate. If you can not get the pedals all the way around, simply start with moving the pedals back and forth until you can make a full circle movement.

Leg Extensions

To strengthen your quadriceps, you can perform exercises on the leg extension machine at a gym, or do the same type of movement at home with light ankle weights or resistance bands. Seated with your knees bent, slowly extend your leg until it is straight, lined up with your thigh. Pause at the peak of the contraction for a few seconds. Control the movement as you slowly return the leg to the beginning position. An average set consists of 10 repetitions. Choose your weights so that you can easily complete a set.

Hamstring Curls

Your hamstrings are the muscles in the back of your thighs, and like the quadriceps, need to be strengthened to support the knee. The hamstring curl machine is the optimum tool, but you can also perform a similar movement at home. Position yourself on your stomach, on a bench or bed, with your legs straight, knees extended and feet flexed. Keeping your pelvis pressed down, slowly bend your knees, bringing your heels toward your buttocks. Pause at the top of the contraction for a few breaths. Slowly return your legs to fully extended, controlling the movement all the way down. A set of 10 repetitions should be easy to complete.

Additional Exercises

In addition to quad extensions and hamstring curls, some other exercises may assist you in your recovery. Side-lying leg lifts that work your outer thighs or abductors, are on the list of strengthening exercises, as well as straight legs lifts, from both back and face down position. Partial or half squats can also help to strengthen the muscles in the front of the thighs, but may require assistance or something to balance yourself with.

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