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Knee Sprain in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a knee sprain?

A knee sprain is a stretched or torn ligament in your child's knee. Ligaments support the knee and keep the joint and bones in the correct position. A knee sprain may involve one or more ligaments.

Knee Anatomy

What increases my child's risk for a knee sprain?

  • Not using the correct shoes or protective gear during activity
  • Not warming up or stretching before exercise
  • Too much exercise at one time, or a sudden increase in exercise

What are the signs and symptoms of a knee sprain?

  • Stiffness or decreased movement
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Painful pop that can be heard or felt
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Knee that buckles or gives out when your child tries to walk

How is a knee sprain diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about the injury and examine your child. Tell the provider if a snap or pop was heard when your child was injured. The provider will check the movement and strength of your child's joint. Your child may be asked to move the joint. He or she may also need any of the following:

  • An x-ray, CT scan or MRI may show the sprain or other damage. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the injury show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • Arthroscopy is a procedure to look inside your child's joint with a scope. The scope is a long tube with a magnifying glass, a camera, and a light on the end.

How is a knee sprain treated?

Treatment depends on the type and cause of your child's knee sprain. Your child may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not give your child other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to a healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • A support device such as a splint or brace may be needed. These devices limit movement and protect your child's joint while it heals. Your child may be given crutches to use until he or she can stand on his or her injured leg without pain. Your child should use the device as directed.
  • Physical therapy may be needed. A physical therapist teaches your child exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work or your child's strain is severe. Surgery may include a knee arthroscopy to look inside your child's knee joint and repair damage.

How can I manage my child's knee sprain?

  • Have your child rest his or her knee and not exercise. Do not let your child walk on the injured leg if he or she is told to keep weight off the knee. Rest helps decrease swelling and allows the injury to heal. Your child can do gentle range of motion exercises as directed to prevent stiffness.
  • Apply ice on your child's knee for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the bag with a towel before you apply it. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply compression to your child's knee as directed. Your child may need to wear an elastic bandage. This helps keep the knee from moving too much while it heals. The bandage should not be so tight that it causes your child's toes to feel numb or tingly. Take it off and rewrap it 1 time each day.
    How to Wrap an Elastic Bandage
  • Elevate your child's knee above the level of his or her heart as often as possible. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your child's leg on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably. Do not put pillows directly under your child's knee.
    Elevate Leg (Child)

How can another knee sprain be prevented?

Your child should exercise his or her legs to keep the muscles strong. Strong leg muscles help protect your child's knee and prevent strain. The following may also prevent a knee sprain:

  • Your child should slowly start an exercise or training program. He or she should slowly increase the time, distance, and intensity of the exercise. Sudden increases in training may cause another knee sprain.
  • Your child should wear protective braces and equipment as directed. Braces may prevent your child's knee from moving the wrong way and causing another sprain. Protective equipment may support your child's bones and ligaments to prevent injury.
  • Your child should warm up, cool down, and stretch when exercising. Your child should warm up by walking or using an exercise bike before starting regular exercise. He or she should do gentle stretches after warming up. This helps to loosen his or her muscles and decrease stress on the knee. Your child should also cool down and stretch after exercise.
    Warm up and Cool Down
  • Your child should wear shoes that fit correctly and support his or her feet. Your child's running or exercise shoes should be replaced before the padding or shock absorption is worn out. Ask your child's healthcare provider which exercise shoes are best for him or her. Ask if your child should wear special shoe inserts. Shoe inserts can help support your child's heels and arches or keep his or her foot lined up correctly in his or her shoes. Your child should exercise on flat surfaces.

When should I call my child's pediatrician?

  • Any part of your child's leg feels cold, numb, or looks pale.
  • Your child has new or increased swelling, bruising, or pain in his or her knee.
  • Your child's symptoms do not improve within 6 weeks, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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