A knee sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the knee. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other.
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A knee sprain is when a force pushes the bones of the knee apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart. This can happen from things like:
- Forced twisting of the knee
- A sudden change in direction
- A misstep that causes a sudden strain at a joint
- An impact with an object or another person
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Playing sports, such as basketball, football, skiing, and gymnastics
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Muscle weakness
- Poor flexibility
- Loose joints
Problems may be:
- Pain and tenderness, especially putting weight on the knee
- Swelling, warmth, or bruising around the knee
- Problems moving the knee
- A popping sound
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the knee.
It can be hard to tell a sprain from a fracture or dislocation. Pictures may be taken. This can be done with:
The doctor may need to view the inside of the knee. This can be done with a minimally invasive procedure called an arthroscopy.
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Treatment will depend on the joint and how severe the injury is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:
- Supportive care, such as rest, ice, a compression bandage, and raising the knee to ease pain and swelling
- Medicine, such as over the counter pain relievers
- Supportive devices, such as a brace or crutches
- Physical therapy to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion
Some people may need surgery to repair a ligament that is torn.
Most sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:
- Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
- Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support the knee
- Lowe WR, Warth RJ, Davis EP, Baily L. Functional bracing after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: a systematic review. J Am Acad Ortho Surg.2017;25(3):239-249
- Sports injuries. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sports-injuries.
- Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.orthoinfo.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries.
- Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/topical-nsaids.
- Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
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