A sprain occurs when a ligament becomes stretched or torn. Knee sprains are one of the top two most common types of sprains (along with those in the ankle). Despite their prevalence, sprains come in many different degrees of severity and the treatments for this injury can vary widely depending on the level of sprain. Read this article to learn more about how to treat your knee sprain and what to expect during your recovery.
Mild knee sprains involve only stretching or very tiny tears in the ligament. That means that they can often be treated at home. The most common at-home treatment for mild knee sprains is the R.I.C.E. method:
- Rest: Avoid using your injured knee to protect it from further injury. After a day or two of complete rest, do some very gentle and slow movements every so often to keep your knee from stiffening up.
- Ice: Use a cold pack or an ice pack to bring the swelling down. You should ice your knee as soon as possible after the injury occurs, followed by 10-to-15 minutes periods of icing four times a day for the next 48 hours.
- Compress: Wrap your knee with an elastic wrap or a soft bandage. Don't keep it too tight - it should still be comfortable to wear and should not make your leg feel numb or tingly.
- Elevate: Lie down and place a pillow or two under your injured knee. This keeps your knee above your heart, which will help bring down the swelling even more.
You can also use over-the-counter medications to help you with at-home treatment of your knee sprain. The most popular choices for this are NSAIDs like ibuprofen (as found in Advil and Motrin) and acetaminophen (as found in Tylenol). These medications can help manage the pain and keep swelling down. You may also want to buy a brace or wrap at the store to help immobilize your knee while you heal.
If your sprain hasn't improved after two or three days of these at-home treatments, you may want to seek medical attention.
For more severe sprains, especially those where a complete tear occurs in the ligament, knee surgery may be required. There are two main options when it comes to surgery on a sprain:
- Arthroscopy: This procedure involves a tiny camera which is inserted into the knee joint. The surgeon is able to use this camera to determine the extent of the injury. In some cases, the surgeon is able to insert instruments into the joint to make small repairs to the ligament during this procedure.
- Reconstruction: With reconstructive surgery, the surgeon uses a more invasive technique to repair the torn ligament using stitches or sutures. Sometimes, pieces of ligaments or tendons from other parts of the body are grafted in order to repair the torn ligament in the knee.
What to Expect During Recovery
Depending on the severity of the knee sprain, recovery can take anywhere from several days to several months. Those who undergo surgery for a severe sprain should expect much more downtime for recovery than those who have a sprain that can be treated at home.
Most people require some rehabilitation for their knee sprain. For those with a mild sprain, that could include just gently stretching and bending the knee several times a day until the regular range of motion returns. For those with more serious sprains, however, this usually involves at least one visit with a physical therapist. The therapist will show you special exercises and movements that you can do to encourage proper healing in your knee. This is a slow and gradual process that requires patience as well as the guidance of a professional. If done correctly, the knee will heal fully and the risk of re-injuring the knee will be dramatically reduced.
The following are some basic exercises that can help with a mild knee sprain. For anything more serious, ask a physical therapist for advice on how to proceed with your rehabilitation. Each of the following exercises should be done very cautiously and slowly at first to minimize the risk of further injury.
- Squats: Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and squat down for a few seconds before returning to a standing position. Use a wall or piece of furniture for support while performing this exercise.
- Leg curls: Sit on a chair with your feet on the ground. Raise your leg with the injured knee slowly until it is parallel to the floor, then return it your foot to the ground. This can also be done while lying on your stomach and bending your leg towards your back.