Knee sprains are an extremely common injury and can be confusing, with a variety of different “grades” of sprain, and a variety of ways in which the ligaments can be damaged, it can be hard to even know if you’ve sprained your knee or not! Read on to find out how to assess the injury, and how to begin treating it.
What is a knee sprain, and what is the difference between a sprain and a strain?
A knee sprain occurs when one or more of the 4 ligaments in the knee joint are torn or twisted, usually either from an awkward movement of the knee joint or from a sudden and direct impact to the knee.
A knee strain occurs when the tendons that connect the muscle to the bone are damaged. In much the same way as with a sprain, this involves a tearing or twisting of the tendon.
The recovery methods for both sprains and strains are relatively similar and treatment times can vary hugely depending on which of the ligaments were damaged and the severity of the damage (the grade of the sprain).
What are the “grades” of knee sprains, and what do they mean?
As with other sprains, knee sprains are graded according to their severity. There are 3 grades:
- Grade 1 – This is the mildest sprain, and involves relatively little damage to the ligament. There is stretching of the ligament, and perhaps some minor tearing of the ligaments. Sprains of this grade are uncomfortable but do not, however, make it impossible to put weight on the ligament
- Grade 2 – This is the moderate sprain, and involves a tearing of the ligament. This grade of sprain can make it more difficult to place weight on the knee and can inhibit walking
- Grade 3 – This is the severe sprain, and occurs when there is a complete tearing of the ligament from the bone. This level of sprain makes it almost impossible to place weight on the knee
(To accurately assess which grade of a sprain you may have it is advisable to seek medical advice.)
Symptoms can vary and should be assessed by a health professional for a diagnosis, however, if you are suffering from a knee sprain you may notice one or more of the following:
- A popping in the knee
- Swelling in the knee shortly after the injury
- Bruising surrounding the knee after the injury
- Inability to place weight on the affected knee, the feeling that the knee will buckle if weight is placed on it
You may also notice stiffness in the knee or a reduction in mobility, this can be an early indicator of a sprain.
The treatment for a knee sprain can vary depending on the level of damage to the ligaments. However, the general method is the same.
Firstly, use the R.I.C.E method:
- REST – Do not place weight on the affected knee, do not participate in sports or strenuous physical activity of any kind
- ICE – Cool the area by applying an ice pack or the CoolXChange bandage. If using an ice pack, do not apply to the area for more than 20 minutes at a time. The CoolXChange bandage can be applied for longer periods of time
- COMPRESSION – Compression of the affected area allows for control of the swelling, and a reduction in further movement of the joint which could lead to additional damage
- ELEVATION – Raise the affected leg so that the foot is above the heart, this helps to regulate the blood flow and promotes faster healing of the joint
Apart from this, your doctor may provide you with anti-inflammatory medication to combat the swelling and provide pain relief. Depending on the severity of the sprain, other methods of recovery should be discussed with your doctor, health professional or physiotherapist.
The process of recovery from knee sprains can vary hugely, and depends on the level of damage to the ligaments:
- A grade 1 sprain is normally fully recovered after a few weeks with rest and compression of the affected area
- A grade 2 sprain is normally healed after around 6 weeks of rest and care for the knee
- A grade 3 sprain is healed after on average 3 to 4 months. In these cases, the recovery time will depend on the treatment plan recommended to you by your doctor or physiotherapist, and the exact nature of the injury
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