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Football Injuries Uncovered: MCL vs. LCL, or how Looking Good in Shorts Saves Knees



The legacy of the 2020 season could have been different. Go back to November 29, 2020. Joey Bosa rolls up Josh Allen in the second quarter. Josh goes straight Gumby at the knee and ankle. Bosa was out there folding Josh Allen like a cheap suit. To the common eye, you could just tell it looked, ‘bad’. Fortunately, Josh rose up from the ashes, ran in a score, and got himself a MF taunting penalty. How? Well, Looking Good in Shorts saves knees. For this article, let’s take a deep dive into MCL/LCL injuries. 

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Doctors refer to it as the ‘Medial Collateral Ligament’. The MCL attaches the femur to the tibia, AKA, the thigh bone to the shin bone. This attachment is on the inside of the knee. Below is a right knee looking at you!

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Tears | Upswing Health

These are common, as the NFL usually sees over a 100+/year. MCLs injuries can vary, as they come in three different degrees of injury.  Due to a good blood supply for the MCL, they can heal pretty well. Barring a complete rupture, which would likely require surgery, players will return to play relatively fast. Low-grade sprains could take 1-3 weeks, whereas moderate sprains may take 3-6. Surgical recovery is 6-9+ months.

The mechanism of injury is when the knee caves inward. You would see this with direct impact to the outside of the knee or via non-contact.

MCL Tear - Medial Collateral Ligament - MCL Injury - PhysioAdvisor
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Residing on the other side of the knee is the ‘Lateral Collateral Ligament’. This functions similarly to the MCL but stabilizes the outside of one’s knee. This, again, is a right knee looking at you!

Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) Tears | Upswing Health

Injuries to the LCL are much less common. They also take longer to heal. The LCL does not have the same blood supply that the MCL thrives under, thus driving recovery times longer. Low grade LCL sprain will take 2-4 weeks, whereas moderate sprains will require 4-8 weeks. Surgical recoveries would take 6-9+ months.

The mechanism of injury is when the knee buckles outwards. This would be extremely rare to see non-contact, as they usually involve a planter foot and a blow to the inside of the knee.

LCL Tear (Members Only) - PhysioAdvisor 

Thigh Thoughts

Moral of the story … MCL/LCL injuries are commonplace in the NFL. Remember that MCLs have a fairly quick recovery, while LCLs are not too far behind. The problem with these injuries is sometimes a player can come back too early. When a player plays too soon, they might still have a ‘little give’ in their knee. The medical field calls this ‘laxity’. This phenomenon occurs due to the ligaments being stretched out from the injury. Infamously, RGIII returned for the playoffs after an LCL injury. The general consensus considered it an expedited return, and he subsequently tore his ACL. This was commented on by, then teammate of RGIII, Lorenzo Alexander. For our Bills, this season we saw Cody Ford return from an MCL and then tear his meniscus in practice a week later. I can’t say for sure, but you smell what my thighs are cookin’. 

As for Josh Allen, he unmistakably dodged an MCL tear in that Chargers’ game. In fact, he was mostly only listed for an ankle injury due to the tackle. Potentially, Josh might have superior collagen in his ligaments. I, however, believe it is his ability to look good in shorts that prevented this injury. More than a thirst trap, Josh’s appeal in summer sportswear is providing him longevity in football.