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Knee Sprain

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Knee Sprain

(Sprain, Knee)


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.

Ligaments of the Knee.

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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

Risk Factors

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.

Sprain of Knee.

Sprained ligament kneehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=49364936si55550638.jpgsi55550638.jpgNULLjpgSprained ligament kneeNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\si55550638.jpgNULL11NULL2003-04-162543904936_11721Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


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
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.