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How to Heal a Sprained Knee

We go through life without paying much attention our knees. Most people have a vague idea of how and why our knees function. What the majority of us fail to understand is just how important our knees are to our movement and motion. When knee injuries happen, we often begin to see our humble knees in a whole new light.

What exactly is a knee sprain?

Simply put, a knee sprain is an injury to one or more of the four major ligaments in the knee. These ligaments are known as the ACL, the PCL, the MCL and the LCL. Each plays a vital role in overall knee function.

  • The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) controls the twisting and rotating movement of the knee.
  • The PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) works to stabilize the knee.
  • The MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) connects the shinbone to the thighbone helping to stabilize them. The MCL is also the most frequent cause of knee strain injuries
  • The LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament) contributes to the stability and rotational movement of the knee.

Knee strain or knee sprain?

Although these words are used interchangeably at times, there is a difference between a strain and a sprain. In the case of knees, a sprain means a tear in or stretching of the ligaments. A strained knee occurs when there is damage to muscles or tendons. Tendons are the tissue which connects muscles to bones.

Just what causes a knee sprain?

Knee sprains are typically the result of one of two basic causes. The first is a movement such as a misstep or sudden twisting of the knee, causing the ligaments to stretch beyond their natural range of movement. The second kind of knee injury occurs when the knee is struck by something or when the knee itself strikes something, such as in the case of a sudden fall.

The specific circumstances of knee strains may differ but the injuries are essentially the same. When the tendons or muscles which surround the knee forced back beyond their natural limit, we call this hyperflexion. Similarly, hyperextension refers to knee joints stretching outward beyond their usual limit.

Types of knee sprains.

Knee sprains are grouped into three categories based on the severity of the sprain.

  • Grade one is the least serious type of sprain. Grade one knee sprains are those where pain is present but the ligament is stretched; not torn. The knee typically remains stable and responds well to treatment during grade one sprains.
  • Grade two knee sprains consist of those sprains with partial ligament tearing. This grade of sprain may also present some knee instability.
  • Grade three knee sprains are the most severe of all. In grade three sprains, the ligament fibers are torn completely and knee instability is present.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, some knee injuries may require surgery; others may require wearing a knee brace or wrap for an extended period of time. Fortunately, a typical knee sprain only requires a bit of rest and recovery. As a rule of thumb, grade one sprains may take anywhere from two weeks to a month to heal, while grade two and three strains can take as long as several months to fully recover from.

How can we tell if a knee is sprained or just sore?

Diagnosing a sprained knee is usually done by looking for a set of specific symptoms. These symptoms include

Feeling or hearing a ‘pop’ sound from inside the of the knee at the time of injury

Severe swelling of the knee within a short time of injuring it.

Skin discoloration around the knee (black and blue).

Instability in the knee such that it feels the knee cannot support normal weight.

Problems moving the knee and pain when kneeling.

Knee bending outward.

What does is take to heal a knee sprain?

Recovery from a sprained knee generally requires adhering to some very basic rules.

Properly resting the knee.
Icing down the knee in order to reduce the amount of swelling.
Properly elevating the knee during periods of rest.
Taking anti-inflammatory painkillers to reduce pain.
Strength exercises and stretching to get the knee back into shape. Using a knee brace or wrap to stabilize the knee and to prevent additional injuries from occurring.
If you’re given crutches by your doctor, be sure to use them even for short movements.

Which exercises should you do to rehabilitate your sprained knee?

Exercise plays a big part in getting an injured knee back into shape. Start off with a small number of repetitions, increasing them gradually as time passes and your knee becomes stronger. It can be tempting to overdo exercise but this may actually harm the knee rather than speed up the healing process. The following exercises are known to be helpful in sprained knee rehabilitation programs.

Single Leg Standing -Try standing on one leg for as long as you can. This exercise helps improve balance, reducing your likelihood of having another knee injury
Heel Slides -These can be done lying on your back or from a sitting position. Slide your heel back and forth so that your knee bends and flexes. It is important to stop this exercise if you experience pain while doing it.

Straight Leg Raises -Lying on your back, raise one leg 5 to 10 inches and hold it there for 3 seconds. Lower your leg and repeat this motion.

The purpose of following an exercise routine is to improve the range of motion and strength of the injured knee. After becoming accustomed to these exercises, you can begin to slightly more difficult exercise to your rehabilitation routine.

When to seek professional help.

Some knee sprains can be healed at home without the aid of a doctor. More serious sprains will often require advanced medical help. It is important to know the difference between a mild sprain and something more severe. If you experience the following symptoms, see a doctor as quickly as you can.

If your knee becomes extremely swollen or significantly painful.

If your knee cannot support your standing weight.

If your knee feels as if it will give out or buckle under strain.

The best remedy for knee strain is to prevent it from happening in the first place. While not every knee injury can be avoided, taking a few simple precautions can keep your knees healthy and strong. Apply the following to your fitness routine.

Take some time to investigate the athletic gear options for your particular sport. Using the right gear may help prevent knee injury. The best shoes for the knees of a soccer player aren’t necessarily the ones that a jogger should be wearing.

Before you work out or participate in an athletic event, be sure to take the time to stretch and warm up your knees.

Wear comfortable shoes. If your shoes don’t feel right, get another pair.

When you are truly fatigued from exercise, rest until you’re fully recovered.


The prognosis for knee sprain sufferers is an extremely good one. Fully eighty percent of people with PCL injuries, and as many as ninety percent of individuals with ACL injuries, can expect to make a complete recovery as long as they participate in physical therapy and follow the advice of a trained physician. Nearly one hundred percent of MCL and LCL sprain sufferers can expect a complete recovery.


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