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 knee
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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


American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


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Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT

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