One of the most frustrating parts of consulting with a medical professional is those instances in which you’re unclear on the terminology and jargon being used. It’s never fun to feel in the dark, doubly more so when the implications can be significant for your health or the health of a loved one.

It’s important to be as clear and transparent as possible in communications. For example, one area that can trip up patients is pinpointing the distinction between ACL and MCL tears, so let’s address the terminology.

Both are ligaments in your knee that connect your thigh bone (or your femur) to your shin bone (or your tibia). They ultimately help cushion your knee joint.

So what’s the difference?


Your anterior cruciate ligament, also known as ACL, can be found in the middle of your knee, helping to stabilize the joint. Athletes may be especially familiar with ACL injuries, which tend to occur during recreational activities that include shifts in direction or stops; think soccer, tennis, basketball, or other similar sports.

You’ll often be able to tell an ACT tear by a popping noise or sudden sensation of swelling. These injuries can be as severe as a full tear, or a milder version may just strain your ligament. 


A medial collateral ligament, or MCL, runs alongside the inside of your knee. Its function is simple – keep your joint from over-extending.

Given that it connects your thigh bone to your shin, you’ll more likely experience an MCL tear from sports that involve high contact like hockey or football – activities in which you suddenly find yourself colliding with a teammate or competitor.

You may know an MCL tear has taken place when the knee is bent or pushed to the side in a way that just doesn’t “feel natural.” Also, be on the lookout for that tell-tale popping sound or sudden pain on the inside of your knee.


In either event, you may find yourself experiencing many of the same symptoms, including swelling, popping noises, pain, or instability.

Getting Help and Treatment

It’s important to take swift action in the wake of either injury, such as applying ice and a compression garment to stabilize the joint.

But you don’t have to go it alone – seek out a medical professional and their advice.

Need further advice on avoiding conditions like an ACL or MCL injury? Consult Dr. John Andrachuk, a leading Orthopedic Sports Medicine surgeon serving the greater Atlanta region.