What Are the Differences Between Your ACL, MCL, and Meniscus?

December 5, 2022
3 Min Read
What Are the Differences Between Your ACL, MCL, and Meniscus?

ACL or MCL tears are among the most feared injuries that athletes may have. Depending on the severity of the injury, someone with an ACL or MCL rupture should anticipate missing many months or perhaps longer of play. However, even though the two knee problems are frequently confused, they are quite different.

Discover the distinctions between the two below. 

ACL Tear 

An individual's knee is made up of four ligaments, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL's primary roles are to stabilize the knee, prevent the knee from twisting, and prevent the tibia from overextending. People frequently twist or dislocate their knees suddenly when they have an ACL tear.

Signs and Symptoms that Indicate an ACL Injury 

ACL injury symptoms and signs often include: 

  • A "pop" sound or potential "popping" sensation in your knee 
  • Extreme pain 
  • Swelling that may begin in only a few hours 
  • Increasing knee stiffness 
  • Sensation as if your knee is giving way when you put weight on it

MCL Tear 

The medial collateral ligament, or MCL, is located in the inside part of the knee. The MCL functions to strengthen and enlarge the knee joint. The knee joint can enlarge to the point that it breaks apart when someone clips it from the outside (usually during a contact sport).

Symptoms of an MCL Tear

The following are examples of MCL damage symptoms:

  • Popping noise
  • The inside knee region may be painful or uncomfortable.
  • Having the impression that your knee will give way when you put weight on it
  • Inside-knee locking

What distinguishes an MCL tear from an ACL tear?

The signs of an ACL tear and an MCL tear are comparable. An ACL tear will produce a distinct popping sound, but an MCL tear won't. This is the primary distinction between the two types of tears.

An individual would likely experience the following symptoms if their ACL or MCL is torn:

  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Severe pain
  • Possibility of bruising


The meniscus in your knee acts as a springy cushion. This patch of cartilage, which is located where your kneecap, shinbone, and thigh bone meet, helps to equally distribute pressure over the knee while also allowing for better movement. In comparison, your ACL is more like a huge elastic band that runs through the center of your knee. It offers the knee structural support, particularly when bending and twisting are involved.

ACL/MCL vs Meniscus Tear

It's not unusual for the early symptoms of an ACL or meniscus injury or tears to be fairly similar, including knee pain, swelling, redness, and mobility issues. However, several distinctions might focus attention on the issue. It might be challenging to fully extend or bend the knee after a meniscus tear. Additionally, the joint may experience a "locking" feeling and lose some of its motion.

ACL tears don't frequently result in this. It's fairly usual to simultaneously hear a popping sound and feel as though your leg or foot has given way under you. It might therefore be quite challenging to put any weight on the affected limb. Regardless of the symptoms you may be having, you should still schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. They'll be able to give you a firm diagnosis and lay out a course of action.

What are the treatment options for a meniscus tear?

Depending on how bad the damage is, the particular treatments for a meniscus tear vs an ACL tear will often differ. Rest and painkillers are typically sufficient treatments for a small or even major meniscus injury. Even while severe rips could necessitate surgery, non-surgical alternatives like physical therapy are sometimes looked into first. If symptoms persist despite these initial measures, more invasive procedures may be considered. 

One common surgical option is minimally invasive knee arthroscopy. During this procedure, a small camera called an arthroscope is inserted into the knee through a tiny incision, allowing the surgeon to view and repair the tear. This could involve either suturing the torn pieces of the meniscus together to promote natural healing or performing a meniscectomy, where the damaged part of the meniscus is trimmed away. 

Recovery from these surgeries often involves several months of limited movement or use of crutches, followed by a tailored physical therapy program aimed at strengthening the knee muscles and restoring joint functionality.

What are the treatment options for an ACL tear?

When an ACL is torn, physiotherapy may also be employed to assist managing mobility issues and discomfort. However, even if ACL surgery is not needed right away, ACL rupture frequently requires it. If it's impairing your leg's movement or causing you daily discomfort, this becomes more crucial.

ACL-related problems often require 6 to 12 months to heal completely, although most meniscus-related problems normally go away within a few weeks to three months.

What locations are available for appointments and what information is needed to schedule one?

You can find the closest locations for appointment scheduling online; choose your preferred location here.


You can learn more about what our specialist, Dr. Benjamin Busfield said in a video here. You may Call us here for more information.

Get Help Now

The staff at BASS Medical Group is here to help if you require care for problems with your meniscus, MCL, or ACL. The medical staff's surgeons have experience performing arthroscopy operations for meniscus tears and other more widespread knee problems. They can also operate on the ACL to aid in regaining mobility. Get in contact with the team right away so we can talk about your medical needs and the finest solutions.