Hockey is a very physically demanding and high intensity sport. The nature of hockey includes rapid changes in direction, incredible hand-eye coordination and forceful impact. It’s no surprise this game also comes with injuries. Among all hockey injuries, medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries in the knee are the second most common behind concussions (Grant, Bedi, Kurz, Bancroft & Miller, 2013).

The MCL is one of four primary stabilizing ligaments in the knee. It connects the femur and tibia on the medial (inside) aspect of the knee. The MCL helps prevent excessive stretching or movement with the inside part of the knee. The most common cause of an MCL sprain are a direct blow to the outside of the knee and/or twisting motion at the knee with a planted foot. In hockey, this injury can happen from getting checked low by an opponent or from catching a skate edge and twisting your knee. Here are a few points to know that can help ensure a proper and speedy return to the ice:

What to do after a knee injury?

Apart from the pain, the inside of the knee may begin to feel tight as swelling starts to set in. Initial treatment should include RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). This helps control swelling in the knee. This helps control swelling in the knee and healing to help get you back on the ice. It is important to have a health care professional such as an athletic trainer or physician to evaluate your knee.

Imaging is helpful to determine the severity of the injury. It can help rule out any other related structures commonly associated with MCL tears such as the ACL or meniscus. After being diagnosed it is important to start rehabilitation with an athletic trainer or physical therapist.

How bad is my knee injury?

There are three grades of severity with all ligament injuries including the MCL.

  • Grade I sprains are an “overstretching or slight tear” of the ligament, that resolves in one to two weeks.
  • Grade II sprains are larger tears that are still partially attached and generally resolve in three to four weeks.
  • Grade III sprains are complete ligament tears, that resolve in four to six weeks. It can an take longer depending on severity and post-injury treatment. Some Grade III injuries may require surgery.

Recognizing the severity of the injury is a vital for full recovery and prevention for re-injury. Recovery is typically non-surgical if appropriate measures are taken, but in some grade III injuries surgery may be recommended.

What is the MCL recovery time for hockey players?

It is important to understand that in most cases you can expect a full recovery. Sports equipment such as a knee brace and/or sleeve can help add support during the healing process. Also, proper knee stabilization and strength are essential pieces of rehabilitation.

Common strengthening exercises for the leg include squats and lunges. Single wall standing and side-to-side shuffles/bounding help with stabilization and balance. A well-rounded rehabilitation program will also integrate the hips, core, and cross training into the recovery. In time, you will advance from dry land rehab to once again lacing up the skates for sport specific training on the ice. Remember that everybody’s body is unique and every injury is unique. Working with a health care professional specializing in sports injuries can help you meet your goals on and off the ice.


Grant, J.A., Bedi, A., Kurz, J., Bancroft, R., & Miller, B.S. (2013). Incidence and injury characteristics of medial collateral ligament injuries in male collegiate ice hockey players. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 5(3), 270-272.