by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(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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Donnell-Fink LA, Klara K, Collins JE, et al. Effectiveness of knee injury and anterior cruciate ligament tear prevention programs: A meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(12):e0144063. Available at : Accessed June 2, 2016.

Lowe WR, Warth RJ, Davis EP, Baily L. Functional bracing after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: a systematic review. J Am Acad Ortho Surg.2017;25(3):239-249

Roth J, Taylor DC. Management of acute isolated medial and posteromedial instability of the knee. Sports Med Arthroscopy Rev.2015;23(2):71-76.

Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: Accessed October 14, 2020.

Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed October 14, 2020.

Sugimoto D, Myer GD, et al. ABCs of evidence-based anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention strategies in female athletes. Current Phys Med Rehabil Rep. 2015;3(1):43-49.

Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed October 12, 2020.

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