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What is a Knee Sprain?

A knee sprain is a broad term used when any of the four internal ligaments of the knee have been sprained. When using a general term such as this, it is important to differentiate a knee sprain from a strain. The words are often confused. A strain is an injury to a muscle while a sprain is an injury to a ligament.


The four ligaments in the knee that may be affected in a sprained knee are the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). A sprained knee can result from damage to any of these ligaments. Ligament sprains are categorized depending on their severity. These categories are:

  • Grade I: minor injury, an overstretching of the ligament with no tear, ligament still able to provide some degree of stability
  • Grade II: moderate injury, a partially torn ligament with much greater laxity than in Grade I
  • Grade III: complete tear of the ligament and no longer able to provide any stability

What Causes a Knee Sprain?

A knee sprain is usually caused by engagement in rigorous physical activity. However, a sprained knee can also result from anything that causes the ACL, MCL, PCL, or LCL to sprain, which could be one of the following or a combination:

  • Tripping, causing a twisting motion of the knee
  • Stepping into a divot in the ground
  • Landing from a jump or fall in an unnatural position
  • Car accident
  • Direct blow to the knee
  • Frequent starts and stops while running
  • Pivoting
Sporty young man bandaging his knee. Pain in knees. Knee sprain

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How to Tell if You Have a Sprained Knee

It will be easy to tell that something is wrong in the knee if you experience a knee sprain injury. There will most likely be significant pain. Other than pain, symptoms that you may experience are:

  • Swelling
  • Erythema (reddening of skin) and warmth of the knee
  • Feelings of instability and an inability to place much weight on the knee
  • Bruising

It is vital to determine which ligament in your knee is sprained and how severe the sprain is. This will usually require an imaging test such as an MRI. Accurate diagnosis of the location and severity of the sprain will help your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

If You Are Experiencing Symptoms, Schedule an Appointment Dr. Burke Orthopedics Immediately.
Injuries - sports running knee injury on woman.

How to Prevent a Knee Sprain

It will not always be possible to prevent a sprain in the knee, because accidents happen. Too much force on the knee or putting it in an awkward position may be out of your control. However, there are some things that you can do in order to increase the health and strength of your knee, allowing it to withstand greater loads.

  • Wear proper protective gear for your sport, mainly knee pads
  • Strengthen the surrounding musculature
  • Stretch the surrounding musculature and connective tissue frequently throughout the day in order to maintain proper range of motion
  • Warm up properly before engaging in any vigorous physical activity
  • Know your limits and take rest breaks when needed
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!

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Disclaimer: Please note all medical information contained within this website should never be interpreted as a diagnosis or recommendation of treatment. If a diagnosis is needed, contact Dr. Burke Orthopedics for a personalized consultation. Information shared in testimonials and reviews are specific to that particular patient and may not be representative of the experience of others.