Knee Sprain

(Sprain, Knee)


A knee sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments that support the knee. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.

Ligaments of the Knee

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Causes    TOP

Knee sprains may be caused by:

  • Forced twisting of the knee
  • Stopping suddenly while running
  • Shifting your weight while running or skiing
  • Landing awkwardly after jumping
  • Blow to the outer or inner side of the knee
  • Blow to the front of the knee while the knee is bent and the foot is firmly planted on the ground

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of developing a knee sprain include:

  • Playing sports
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
  • Loose joints

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the knee
  • Swelling, redness, warmth, or bruising around the knee
  • Decreased range of motion in the knee
  • Inability to stand on the affected leg
  • Tenderness where the injured ligament attaches to a bone in the knee
  • Swelling within the knee

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. The knee will be checked to see how stable the joint is and how severe the pain is.

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

A minimally invasive procedure may be done to look inside of your knee. This can be done with arthroscopy.


Knee sprains are graded according to their severity. The injury is considered more severe if more ligaments are involved.

  • Grade 1
    • Stretching and microtearing of ligament tissue
  • Grade 2
    • Partial tearing of ligament tissue
    • Mild instability of the joint when tested
  • Grade 3
    • Severe or complete tearing of ligament tissue
    • Significant instability of the joint

Grade 2 Sprain of Knee

Sprained ligament knee
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Treatment    TOP

Treatment includes:

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation

Your doctor may advise that you follow the RICE method:

  • Rest—Avoid putting any pressure on your knee by not walking on that leg.
  • Ice—Apply ice or a cold pack to the knee to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Compression—Wrap your knee in an elastic bandageto limit swelling and provide support.
  • Elevation—Keep the injured knee raised above the level of your heart. This will help drain fluid and reduce swelling.


Your doctor may advise over-the-counter pain medication or topical pain medications in the form of creams or patches that are applied to the skin.

Knee Support    TOP

If advised by your doctor, wear a brace. The brace will keep your knee from moving. Crutches may also be used with the brace. You may also need to wear a brace when you return to sports. It may need to be custom made to support your knee rather than keep it from moving. Braces are not advised for children.

If you have a severe sprain, you may need to wear a short leg cast for 2-3 weeks.

Rehabilitation Exercises    TOP

Your doctor may advise exercises to restore flexibility, range of motion, and strength. You may be referred to a physical therapist.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery may be needed if a ligament is torn completely.

Prevention    TOP

To reduce your risk of spraining a knee:

  • Warm up and stretch before exercise. Cool down and stretch after exercise.
  • Take a break from sports and exercise when you feel tired.
  • Do exercises that strengthen the leg muscles.
  • Learn the proper technique for sports and exercise. This will decrease stress on all your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, including those around your knee. Also, wear the proper equipment.
  • Ask your doctor if you should use a brace.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine


Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


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Updated October 2007. Accessed June 18, 2015.
What are sprains and strains? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases—National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
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Published November 2014. Accessed June 18, 2015.
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Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013

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