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Knee Sprain


What is a knee sprain?

A knee sprain occurs when one or more ligaments in your knee are suddenly stretched or torn. Ligaments are tissues that hold bones together. Ligaments support the knee and keep the joint and bones in the correct position. They help you walk, twist and turn. There are 4 ligaments that help support the knee. Ask your healthcare provider which of these ligaments was sprained in your knee. Ligaments are often sprained because of an exercise or sports-related injury. Treatment and recovery time depend on the type and cause of the knee sprain.

Knee Anatomy

What causes a knee sprain?


  • A sudden twisting of the knee joint may cause a knee sprain. A sudden twisting of the knee joint may happen while doing sports that cause you to plant your foot and quickly turn at the knee. They include running and stopping or changing direction suddenly, and jumping and landing. Activities that cause your knee to extend more than normal can cause a sprain. Sprains commonly occur in sports such as football, basketball, hockey, and skiing.
  • Direct hits to the knee may cause a sprain. Sprains may be caused by knocks or hits to the front, sides, or back of the knees. Sprains may be caused by tripping and falling onto your knees while they are bent. You can get a sprain from being forcefully knocked to the ground, such as during a football tackle. A sprain may also happen during a car accident.

What increases my risk for a knee sprain?

  • Lack of the correct shoes or protective gear
  • No warm up or stretching before exercise
  • Excessive exercise or a sudden increase in exercise
  • A previous sprain

What are the signs and symptoms of a knee sprain?

  • Stiffness or decreased movement
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Painful pop that you can hear or feel
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Knee that buckles or gives out when you try to walk

How is a knee sprain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your injury and examine you. Tell him if you heard a snap or pop when you were injured. Your healthcare provider will check the movement and strength of your knee joint. You may also need any of the following:

  • An x-ray, CT scan or MRI may show the sprain or other damage to your knee. You may be given contrast liquid to help your injury show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a knee sprain treated?

  • 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 you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Support devices such as an elastic bandage, splint, brace, or cast may be needed. These devices limit movement and protect your joint while it heals. You may be given crutches to use until you can stand on your injured leg without pain. Use devices as directed.
  • Physical therapy may be needed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work or your strain is severe. Surgery may include a knee arthroscopy to look inside your knee joint and repair damage.

How can I manage my knee sprain?

  • Rest your knee and do not exercise. You may be told to keep weight off your knee. This means that you should not walk on your injured leg. Rest helps decrease swelling and allows the injury to heal. You can do gentle range of motion (ROM) exercises as directed. This will prevent stiffness.
  • Apply ice to your knee for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply compression to your knee as directed. You may need to wear an elastic bandage. This helps keep your injured knee from moving too much while it heals. You can loosen or tighten the elastic bandage to make it comfortable. It should be tight enough for you to feel support. It should not be so tight that it causes your toes to be numb or tingly. If you are wearing an elastic bandage, take it off and rewrap it once a day.
  • Elevate your knee above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your leg on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably. Do not put pillows directly behind your knee.

How can I prevent another knee sprain?

Exercise your legs to keep your muscles strong. Strong leg muscles help protect your knee and prevent strain. The following may also prevent a knee sprain:

  • Slowly start your exercise or training program. Slowly increase the time, distance, and intensity of your exercise. Sudden increases in training may cause you to injure your knee again.
  • Wear protective braces and equipment as directed. Braces may prevent your knee from moving in the wrong way and causing a sprain. Protective equipment may support your bones and ligaments to prevent injury.
  • Warm up and stretch before your exercise. Warm up by walking or using an exercise bike before starting your regular exercise. Do gentle stretches after warming up. This helps to loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your knee. Cool down and stretch after you exercise.
  • Wear shoes that fit correctly and support your feet. Replace your running or exercise shoes before the padding or shock absorption is worn out. Ask your healthcare provider which exercise shoes are best for you. Ask if you should wear special shoe inserts. Shoe inserts can help support your heels and arches or keep your foot lined up correctly in your shoes. Exercise on flat surfaces.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.