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Knee Sprain

Last updated Oct. 23, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

A Knee Sprain is a common injury that occurs when one or more ligaments of the knee are stretched or torn. In general, athletes who participate in sports are more likely to sustain a Knee Sprain.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Knee Strain
  • Ligament Tear in the Knee
  • Sprained Knee

What is Knee Sprain? (Definition/Background Information)

  • A Knee Sprain is a common injury that occurs when one or more ligaments of the knee are stretched or torn. In general, athletes who participate in sports are more likely to sustain a Knee Sprain
  • There are 4 ligaments that support the knee and these include  - the medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • In most cases, ligament injuries of the knee involve the tearing of either the medial collateral ligament or the anterior cruciate ligament. Ligament injuries to the posterior cruciate ligament are less likely to take place
  • Knee Sprains may be caused when an individual suddenly changes directions (such as while running) causing an abnormal pressure on the knee
  • The treatment associated with Knee Sprains includes both nonsurgical and surgical methods. The long-term prognosis of is typically good in a majority of the individuals

Who gets Knee Sprain? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Although, men and women of any age, are susceptible to a Knee Sprain, this injury is more prevalent in athletes, who participate in sports
  • Individuals, who are physically-active, have the highest risk of a Sprained Knee

What are the Risk Factors for Knee Sprain? (Predisposing Factors)

Risk factors for a Knee Sprain include:

  • Individuals, who participate in rough or high-impact sports, such as football and basketball, are at an increased risk
  • Loose knee joints
  • Poor flexibility and strength in the knee muscles and ligaments
  • Poor conditioning and balance

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Knee Sprain? (Etiology)

The following factors may lead to a Knee Sprain.

  • Participation in any sports that cause the knee to twist or rotate forcefully
  • Squatting or lifting heavy objects
  • Sudden directional change causing abnormal pressure on the knee
  • Direct trauma to the knee
  • Hyperextension of the knee
  • Landing awkwardly on one’s knee

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Knee Sprain?

The signs and symptoms of a Knee Sprain may include:

  • Pain in the knee, difficulty walking
  • Noticeable swelling in the knee
  • Knee instability

Depending on the severity of the injury, healthcare providers usually classify Knee Sprain into 3 different grades. These grades include:

  • Grade I Knee Sprain: Grade I occurs when only a small number of ligament fibers have been stretched, but not torn
  • Grade II Knee Sprain: Grade II occurs when the ligament fibers have been partially torn
  • Grade III Knee Sprain: Grade III is a complete rupture of the ligament fibers in the knee, necessitating immediate medical and surgical treatment

How is Knee Sprain Diagnosed?

A Knee Sprain is diagnosed using the following methods:

  • Physical examination: During a physical examination, the physician may check for any signs of tenderness and swelling in the knee. A physician may also test the range of motion in the knee. In addition to this, a complete medical history can aid in arriving at a definitive diagnosis
  • X-ray of the knee: Although Knee Sprains do not show up on x-rays, they can help rule out other causes of knee injuries and help confirm the diagnosis
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the knee: A CT scan takes a series of x-ray images from several different angles. These images are then merged to create cross-sectional images of bones and soft tissues of the knee. This then allows the physician to examine the knee and surrounding structures to help confirm a diagnosis
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the knee: An MRI scan is a more detailed scan that uses a magnetic field to produce images, which allows a physician to view any damage to the bones and soft tissue to aid in the diagnosis 

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis

What are the possible Complications of Knee Sprain?

The complications of a Knee Sprain may include:

  • Chronic knee instability
  • Prolonged and chronic pain
  • The development of degenerative joint disease, such as osteoarthritis

How is Knee Sprain Treated?

Both nonsurgical and surgical methods may be used to treat a Knee Sprain. However, the treatment provided depends on the severity of the injury. 

Nonsurgical treatment for a Knee Sprain may include: The RICE method is effective for a high percentage of sports-related injuries. RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

  • Rest: Any activity that aggravates the knee condition should be avoided. The physician usually advises individuals to refrain from such activities, until the symptoms get better
  • Ice: Applying ice to the knee may help decrease pain and reduce swelling
  • Heat: Applying a damp heated towel to the knee may help relieve some pain
  • Compression: Wearing an elastic compression bandage can help stop additional swelling and loss of blood
  • Elevation: Elevating the knee helps to decrease swelling
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can help decrease the pain in the knee
  • Splint or brace: The physician may prescribe a padded brace covering the knee, to limit movement and help the injury to heal
  • Individuals may also be given crutches to help keep weight off the injured leg, until it is fully healed
  • Physical therapy may help restore strength, as well as flexibility to the muscles

Surgical treatment for a Knee Sprain may include:

  • Knee arthroscopy: Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure that is used to visualize, diagnose, and repair the knee ligaments using small instruments. During this procedure, a surgeon inserts a thin tube attached to a camera (a fibro-optic camera) into the joint via a small incision on the skin of the joint. Visualizing the joint via a camera helps the physician view the inside of the knee and determine the treatment required
  • Knee ligament repair: Knee ligament repair is a surgical procedure to repair or replace one or more of the injured ligaments

How can Knee Sprain be Prevented?

A few recommendations to help prevent a Knee Sprain include:

  • Improve conditioning and strengthen the hamstrings: It has been proven that exercising regularly to strengthen the hamstrings and surrounding structures around the knee is very effective in decreasing the risk of a Knee Sprain
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment, such as a knee brace, while participating in certain high-impact sports, such as football, cricket, and basketball. Individuals, who participate in such sports, should ensure that any safety equipment worn is properly adjusted and correctly fitted to provide support for the knee
  • Warming up before exercising
  • Use proper techniques while exercising so that there is decreased stress on the knees

What is the Prognosis of Knee Sprain? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • When Knee Sprains are diagnosed and treated properly, individuals are usually able to make a complete recovery and regain full strength and range of motion in their injured knee
  • However, complications, such as osteoarthritis in the knee, may develop in some individuals with a Grade III Knee Sprain Injury

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Knee Sprain:

The following article links will help you understand injuries to the four ligaments in the knee:





What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 15, 2016
Last updated: Oct. 23, 2018