Spraining your knee is a painful, disruptive injury that can throw a wrench in your ability to move around normally. As the largest joint in the human body, the knee has to support quite a bit of weight and withstand the stress of a variety of movements. If left untreated, knee sprains can leave you hurting and unable to participate in some of your favorite activities.
Due to the different possible grades of knee sprains and the various ligaments that can be injured, it can often be hard for people to recognize whether or not their knee sprain can be treated at home—or if a visit to the doctor is needed.
To help you through this painful time, we put this post together to provide information on knee sprains and advice for how to handle such an injury. At the Urgency Room, we want to be your destination for excellent medical treatment, without the wait time of the emergency room. Here’s what you need to know about knee sprains.
What Is a Knee Sprain?
Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that hold bones together. Ligaments support the entire knee and keep the joint and bones in the correct position. The bones they hold in place are your femur, tibia, and patella. A knee sprain occurs when one or more ligaments in your knee are suddenly stretched. If the ligament stretches too much, it can tear, which is a very serious injury that usually requires surgery to repair the ligament.
Your knee has four ligaments that work in unison to structure and support the joint, allowing for movement. Any of the ligaments can be sprained—and in fact, a knee sprain can involve more than one! The four ligaments are:
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
A serious injury to any of the four knee ligaments can impact the rest of the knee as well. For example, a torn MCL may also result in a sprained or torn ACL.
Types of Knee Sprain
Knee sprains are graded on a severity scale from 1 to 3, with 3 being the most severe. Here is how the types break down.
- Grade 1 knee sprain: One of the four ligaments has been stretched slightly and is mildly damaged. This injury causes microscopic tears in the ligament, but overall it can still help keep the knee joint stable.
- Grade 2 knee sprain: The ligament has been stretched to the point where it becomesloose. A Grade 2 knee sprain is also referred to as a partial tear of the ligament. The knee is mildly to moderately unstable and may give out while standing or walking.
- Grade 3 knee sprain: The ligament is torn in two or completely separate at its end from the bone. The knee is severely unstable.
What Causes a Knee Sprain?
A sudden twisting of the knee joint may cause a knee sprain. This may happen when you run, jump, and land, or stop or change direction suddenly. Knee sprains commonly occur during physical activity but can occasionally happen at other times. Physical activities that place pressure on your knee joints and ligaments are the most likely to cause a sprain. Common activities for knee sprains include football, basketball, hockey, skiing, and wrestling.
Direct hits to the knee may also cause a sprain. Sprains may be caused by hits to the front, sides, or back of the knee. This type of sprain can happen with an unexpected tumble or a bump into a metal object, wall, or strong piece of furniture. If you fall while your knee is bent, for instance, falling down the stairs or slipping on a piece of ice, a sprain can occur. Car accidents are another situation where knee sprains occur, as your legs are bent while driving or riding in a car.
What Increases My Risk for a Knee Sprain?
There’s no way to completely avoid the possibility of spraining your knee. Sometimes a knee sprain will be unavoidable based on the sharp movement or blow to your knee. Some people are more prone to this injury than others, depending on their physical shape and their flexibility. If a person sprains their knee once, they have an increased risk of doing it again.
There are some precautions people can take to lower the risk of a knee sprain, including:
- Wearing sturdy shoes.
- Warming up and stretching thoroughly before exercising.
- Warming down after an exercise.
- Avoiding a sudden increase in exercise. Try gradually ramping up your exercise to avoid placing too much pressure on your knee. For instance, instead of breaking into a spring, start with walking, then jogging, then sprinting.
- Stay in good physical shape. Keep your core and glutes and leg muscles strong
What Are the Symptoms of a Knee Sprain?
If you sprain your knee, you’ll immediately feel a sharp pain. Sometimes a knee sprain will be accompanied by a popping sound that you’ll be able to hear or feel. Depending on the severity of the sprain, the pain can be so significant that you’ll struggle to walk or place weight on the affected leg. After the initial sprain, symptoms include:
- Stiffness or decreased movement
- Pain in the knee joint
- Swelling or bruising
- Giving out or buckling when trying to walk or place weight on the leg
- An area of tenderness over the torn ligament
Should I See a Doctor for Knee Sprain Treatment?
If you suspect you have sprained your knee, try and restrict movement and physical activity. It’s recommended that you ice your knee in intervals of 15 to 20 minutes to combat swelling. Within a day or so of your injury, you’ll have a good idea how severe your sprain is based on the pain and discomfort you feel trying to move. If the pain is still intense and you’re struggling to move around, you’ll want to see a healthcare provider to determine the severity of the injury and to make sure you didn’t tear one of your knee ligaments.
Your healthcare provider will examine your injured knee and check for swelling, tenderness, discoloration, and fluid inside the knee joint, among other symptoms. He or she may also test your range of motion and the strength of your ligaments. To determine the source of a more severe injury, your physician may order additional diagnostic tests. The initial visit will likely entail and exam of the knee and x-rays. If there is a concern for significant ligament or cartilage injury, you will be referred on to an orthopedist and may ultimately need an MRI.
Grade 3 knee sprains or sprains involving damage to multiple ligaments will likely require surgery. This may involve the reconstruction of one or more ligaments using tissue from you or a donor.
The prognosis for a knee sprain is relatively positive. Most people who suffer this injury are able to recover fully with the right treatment, such as physical therapy or surgery. However, some people will experience long-term pain in the knee joint that may not develop until years after the knee sprain.
At-Home Care for a Knee Sprain
If the pain is subsiding and you believe the sprain to be mild, here are a few home treatments you can deploy to accelerate your recovery time and manage the pain. Be sure to follow any at- home care instructions provided by your doctor as well.
- Take Ibuprofen or Tylenol to manage the pain and swelling. Always follow the dosage directions on the bottle.
- Compress your knee with an elastic bandage.
- Elevate the injured knee to decrease swelling
- Continue to ice every few hours to reduce swelling.
Knee Sprain Recovery Time
The recovery time for a knee sprain depends entirely on the severity of the injury and the subsequent rehabilitation or surgical needs. Typically, a grade 1 knee sprain or a grade 2 knee sprain involving the MCL or LCL will heal in 2 to 4 weeks. More severe sprains or injuries involving the other ligaments may take anywhere from 4 months to an entire year.
Visit the Urgency Room to Treat Your Knee Sprain
If you suffered a nasty knee sprain or if one of your kids hurt their knee, come visit us at theUrgency Room and have one of our experienced physicians treat the injury. We have three convenient locations in Woodbury, Vadnais Heights, and Eagan.
By coming to the Urgency Room, you won’t have to sit in the waiting room for long while your knee sprain gets worse. Wait times at the Urgency Room are usually under 15 minutes, and you can check out live waiting room times at each location here. By checking the wait time before you arrive, you’ll avoid an unexpected lengthy visit, such as is often the case when you seek treatment at the ER.
Each Urgency Room is owned and operated by the Emergency Physicians ProfessionalAssociation (EPPA) and is staffed with highly qualified and experienced physicians, nurses, and medical technicians. Check out our comprehensive medical services offered when you need it most. Each location is open 365 days per year, including holidays, from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M.