Best Knee Braces for MCL Injuries [Tears, Sprains and Post-Op]
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the four main ligaments in the knee joint. Located outside of the joint capsule itself on the medial/inside aspect of the knee, the MCL helps to prevent valgus forces on the knee.
If something hits you directly on the outside of the knee joint, this will cause your knee to "bend" or "collapse" inward, such that the MCL becomes stretched as it resists this force. If there is too much force and the MCL simply can't maintain the desired joint orientation, it may result in a partial tear or complete rupture to the MCL ligament.
A brace can go along ways in helping to prevent injuries and certainly should be considered if you're recovering from an MCL injury. In this article we break down the top five MCL braces and which one to consider for minor MCL injuries versus severe MCL injuries.
That said, injury to the MCL is not only restricted to that one plane of movement, but it can actually become quite taut during many other movements as well, such as rotation of the knee. Moreover, injuries to the knee can often occur in combination. For instance, it isn't uncommon to see an ACL sprain, MCL sprain, and damage to the meniscus all in one injury, particularly if it was sustained while playing a sport when planting, rotation, and contact may all be factors in the mechanism of injury.
While some minor injuries to the MCL can be rehabilitated with non-surgical treatment, often times patients will seek additional support for their knee joint while they are treating their injury, as damage to the MCL ligaments can compromise the overall stability of the knee joint. For MCL ruptures that do require surgical reconstruction, more advanced bracing mechanisms may be required during recovery, and many people will continue to wear some sort of brace once they're fully recovered simply as an injury prevention method.
In this article, we will review our Top 5 knee braces for MCL sprains. Below the information on the specific braces, we will also chat a little bit about MCL injuries in general. For information about braces specific to certain sports, please refer to our articles discussing the best knee braces for basketball, as well as the best knee braces for football.
Reviews - Best Knee Braces for MCL Injuries
Tech Ware Pro Knee Brace - Minor Sprains and Prevention
The Tech Ware Pro knee brace is very affordable and simple to use, but caution must be taken with this brace, as it does not provide the same level of support as a brace with sturdy bilateral hinges or locking mechanisms. It does have 4 spring stabilizers, but these help stabilize the knee cap more so than to prevent any varus or valgus movements.
The strapping looks a little messy, but there is actually some legitimate thought behind it. Basically, the strapping works in an alternating fashion, which helps ensure a balanced fit and even tightening, so as not to be lopsided or too tight on one side only. The open patella design allows you to wear this quite snug, but without compromising movement.
You may notice this company markets "maximum support" for runner's knee, and "comfortable support" for most other injuries. This is true for the most part, but always take these claims with a grain of salt. For example, the "comfortable support for tears" is just that - comfortable support. The Tech Ware Pro knee brace will certainly help add some overall stability to your knee joint, but it won't protect you from injury to the extent of a brace with bilateral hinges. For example, this may help prevent minor tweaks and pain from overuse in activities like running, but it likely won't make a difference when planting and cutting, receiving a tackle, or any other jarring force to the knee.
Overall, this is a great simple knee brace that offers excellent value, but when it comes to the MCL, this should be reserved for very minor injuries, prevention of minor aggravation during activities like running, or when you're already healed and you just want a little added support.
McDavid 422 Knee Brace - Great for Minor to Moderate Sprains and Rehab
The McDavid 422 knee brace has been reviewed previously on this site, and is one of our go-to braces for all-around purposes. It's highly affordable for the design and such a reputable brand, it offers excellent functionality, and people generally find it to be a good all-around brace.
The main difference between this knee brace and the Tech Ware Pro knee brace is the bilateral hinge design. On each side of the brace (left/right) there are metal stabilizers that meet at the joint line to form a hinge on their respective side. For visualization purposes, you can almost consider these hinges to act like external ligaments, where the hinge on the inside of your leg mimics the MCL, and the hinge on the outside of your leg mimics the LCL. To be clear, simply wearing this won't be as effective as fully intact ligaments, but the functionality is there to provide extra support.
Now, if you imagine you're running a field planting and cutting, if your knee jolts into a side-to-side movement, the hinges can now come into action by not letting your knee move into an angle beyond what the hinges allow.
Assuming it is worn properly, this means there is a defined end-limit to your range of motion in the side to side directions, so it can actually help stop you from reaching a point where you may fully rupture the ligament. Compared to a sleeve or a brace without the hinges, you will receive way more support with a design like this. All this said, please keep in mind that there is only so much that a brace can do, so don't consider yourself invincible from a knee injury when wearing this. Rather, simply consider this an extra step to prevent re-injury or to allow yourself to do some light exercise while rehabilitating an MCL sprain.
Overall, given the design, the reputable company for orthopaedic braces, and the overall great value, this is an excellent brace for those who are able to be mobile, but want a good level of support to protect the knee joint, as well as the MCL specifically.
Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Supporter - Ideal for Moderate MCL Sprains
Shock Doctor also makes some solid braces, they just don't have the massive amount of different products that McDavid manufactures. Nevertheless, they found their niche in sports medicine braces, and their knee braces are among their best products.
The Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Supporter is very similar to the McDavid 422 knee brace, it just fits a little differently and the one people pick often comes down to familiarity. Like the McDavid 422, this brace offers bilateral hinge stability to help maximize support for your MCL, LCL, ACL, and PCL. It's also reinforced with a 4-way strapping system, and the sleeve itself is made of neoprene which offers some compliance while maintaining a snug fit.
This Shock Doctor knee brace feels a little bulky or rigid at first, and some customers have noticed that in order to have the proper support, they need to tighten the brace to a point that is uncomfortable. However, it should be noted that most of these complaints were accompanied with the advice of giving it a couple days to break in. After the initial break-in period, the vast majority of people who have worn this brace tend to really like it.
Overall, this knee brace offers excellent support for recovering from MCL injuries, very similar to the McDavid 422. It won't lock into one fixed position, but the strong bilateral hinges, 4-way strapping mechanism, and overall nice fit offer a great balance between being able to move your knee as desired while still offering more stability than your injured knee joint alone. It can also be a great way to reduce the risk of re-injury once you are fully recovered, especially if you are doing any sort of weight lifting involving your legs, as well as running.
DonJoy Legend SE-4 Knee Support Brace - Moderate to Severe MCL Strains and Tears
DonJoy is another great brand for knee braces and are particularly known for more elite models. This doesn't mean you need to be an elite athlete to wear one, you just need to be willing to pay quite a bit more for the higher quality. They design their braces to be as minimal and lightweight as possible while ensuring proper strength and stability at the same time.
DonJoy states that this brace is intended for moderate to severe ACL injuries, combination instability (multiple structures damaged), or MCL, LCL, and PCL instabilities. We suspect the reason they list ACL first is due to the higher prevalence of ACL injuries, but again, this is also more than suitable for MCL injuries as well.
One of the ways they can minimize weight and maximize strength of this knee brace is by using aircraft-grade aluminum that is coated with Kraton, which is a material that won't chip, rust, or corrode. The bilateral hinges provide excellent stability to the knee joint, especially for MCL tears, and while you cannot lock this brace in various angles of knee flexion, there is a defined end limit to the range of motion, making this a great choice for those who are free to move their knee (perhaps in a limited fashion).
Overall, this knee brace is excellent for moderate to severe MCL injuries, or injuries to multiple ligaments, and it is arguably the most comfortable and lightweight brace of this style. The main downsides are that it is very expensive relative to many other good knee braces, and the inability to lock the brace at specific angles means it probably isn't best for immediate post-op care, but as soon as you are able to start moving your knee, it's tough to beat the quality of this high-end MCL knee brace. This is a unisex brace, but keep in mind that you need to order for the right or left knee specifically.
The Breg T-Scope is one of the most popular knee braces for post-operative care. It looks quite bulky, and compared to most other knee braces it is; however, it's actually surprisingly lightweight for its appearance. The main function of this brace that makes it great for after a knee surgery is the ability to lock the brace in specific angles of flexion, thus maintaining a static position of your knee, which is excellent when you are not yet cleared to begin moving it in any significant manner.
The Breg T-Scope is a universal fit for the left or right leg, and the telescoping design allows it to fit a range of heights. This one will be good for anyone in the range of 5' to 6'4" tall. There are five range of motion settings you can set the brace to: -10 degree extension (slight hyperextension), 0 degrees (straight neutral leg), and then 10, 20, and 30 degrees of extension. To be honest, it seems a little odd to me that they consider bending the leg (flexion) as a setting of "extension", but nevertheless, the function is still there and serves its purpose well. As an important note, these settings should not be set arbitrarily yourself, but instead should come from the advice of your surgeon, physician, or physiotherapist.
Aside from this, the brace is actually quite comfortable and includes lots of adjustable padding and straps for you to customize the fit to your needs. Furthermore, instructional videos are ample (see below), allowing this brace to become on of the most reliable options out there for post-operative knee care. That said, this brace is definitely more popular for ACL reconstruction, and while it will still work well for the MCL, the main factor here is ensuring that the padding and locking port aren't rubbing over a sensitive area too much. Therefore, if you are interested in this brace for post-op care of MCL surgery, just double check with your doctor that you won't have any issue with padding being applied over that general area.
The MCL is the ligament that provides a connection between the femur and the tibia on the inside of your knee. The MCL is more commonly injured than the LCL, as forces directed to the outside of the knee are more common. As we mentioned above, a force that pushes on the outside or lateral aspect of your knee will tend to push your knee inwards, bending it in a way that tries to "open" the joint on the inside or medial aspect of your knee. This attempted "opening" will cause the MCL to stretch as it tries to keep your knee intact, but if there is too much force, the ligament may not be strong enough to hold on, resulting in a partial tear or complete rupture.
While this represents the most visual way of understanding the mechanics behind the MCL, it's not the only way you can injure this specific ligament. Anything that will place tension on the ligament can be a mechanism of injury. For example, imagine you are playing soccer or any sport on a field that quires running and changing direction quickly. Let's say you're running really fast and all of a sudden are required to change direction. Before you even have time to think about it, you have likely begun to plant your foot into the ground in order to gain enough traction to turn. If your foot/ankle/shin stay in pretty much the same position, but then your femur (thigh) rotates over top of your shin, this rotation can also cause the MCL to stretch, as well as the ACL. This is one of the reasons you often see these injuries occurring together, especially in severe cases. Rotation like this can also cause injury to the meniscus, which is basically an figure-8 shaped ring of cartilage that provides padding between your tibia and femur (you can see it on tope of the tibia in the blue image above), and tends to happen more often on artificial surfaces. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see the MCL, ACL, and meniscus all sustain damage when there is a serve injury to the knee.
This is not to say that anytime you plant and cut that you are asking for an injury. If it does happen in this situation, there is likely some other uncontrollable factor that causes you not to be braced or ready enough for this action (maybe contact with an opponent), or you're also falling, landing from a jump, or perhaps you have just tried to work through a nagging injury for too long. In any case, understanding the general anatomy of the knee ligaments can definitely help promote speedy recovery, as you will understand what does and does not place stress on the various ligaments.
We hope you found this information helpful. Whether or not you choose one of the braces above, the main thing is to understand what the different braces offer and why. From there, you can make an informed decision and find something that works best for you. Furthermore, understanding the anatomy of the knee joint and general mechanisms of injury is also a great way to educate yourself and confidently rehabilitate your knee. All the best with your recovery!