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What are the Symptoms of a Sprained Knee?

By Alex Terris
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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Symptoms of a sprained knee generally depend on the ligament involved. In most cases, however, a sprain to a knee ligament will be painful and cause swelling. There are three grades of sprain, and the severity of the symptoms will vary depending on the grade. An athlete or physically active person may sometimes feel unstable on the joint and may find that the knee buckles sideways. Other symptoms include tenderness, bruising, and stiffness.

The symptoms of a sprained knee can vary between patients because the injury can affect one of several ligaments. If the anterior cruciate ligament is sprained, for example, this is often much more serious than a medical collateral ligament injury. For this reason, the symptoms of a knee sprain can range from minor discomfort and swelling to severe pain and instability that requires surgical intervention. In most cases, a sprained knee refers to a minor injury, although it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor.

There are three grades of sprained knee. Grade One sprains involve the least severe symptoms, as the ligament fibers are not torn. Grade Two sprains involve a tear to some ligament fibers but not all, and Grade Three sprains involve a complete ligament tear. Symptoms become more severe as the number of torn fibers increases.

A knee sprain will often be accompanied by pain. For minor sprains, the pain may only become apparent when a person stops exercising. Severe sprains will prevent any further athletic activity and are much more painful. Pain is often felt when the knee is put under stress, such as going up or down stairs, although it may also be painful to merely walk after the initial injury. Along with pain, the patient may also notice some swelling around the knee joint which can restrict movement.

Knee sprains commonly occur during a sporting activity; they are often the result of sharp turns which put a lot of stress through the joint. If the knee sprain results in a major tear to the ligament, the athlete may feel unstable while walking. Depending on which ligament is torn, the knee may also buckle sideways. In some cases, an audible pop is heard when the ligament is damaged.

There are a number of other potential symptoms of a sprained knee. Tenderness around the knee joint is often present; this usually persists until the swelling has gone down. This may be accompanied by a visible bruise. The knee may also appear stiff to bend, and a person can sometimes have difficulty walking.

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Discussion Comments
By chicada — On May 02, 2011

@Framemaker- I have had acupuncture and other alternative treatments for a knee hyperextension that has left me with lingering knee problems. Not only did the treatments help with the pain, they helped stimulate blood circulation to the area. According to my acupuncturist, this helps heal affected areas.

Anyway, I get treatments for a couple of weeks, and my knee feels great for about 6-9 months. When the pain and clicking begin to return, I go for more treatments. I even go for treatments when I have swelling and it seems to help.

Acupuncture is not as expensive as most would think. I only pay $500 for ten treatments, and I can use them for anything, not just my knee pain.

By Glasshouse — On Apr 30, 2011

@FrameMaker- I would ask your doctor that you would like to pursue treatments that do not require surgery. Options that I know of are injections (Hyaluronic acid and corticosteroids), physical therapy, wearing a brace until the joint can recover, and alternative treatments like acupuncture.

Often times knee sprain symptoms are persistent. Non-surgical treatments often require multiple treatments or lengthy rehabilitation, but it can be worthwhile. As you are probably aware, knee surgeries are not always successful, and they don't last forever when you are talking about replacements.

By FrameMaker — On Apr 29, 2011

Are there any non-surgical treatments for a sprained knee with ligament tearing? I can still walk, jog, and exercise, but it is hard for me to play physical sports like football and basketball without my knee giving way a little. The injury is old and is most likely a combination of knee injuries, but it constantly pops and clicks and it becomes swollen if I play too hard. I cannot afford surgery, or the time off from activities that surgery would require. Does anyone have any advice?

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