The knees are one of the joints of the body that endure the highest amount of stress. In addition to allowing you to walk, go up and downstairs, and transport heavy items, for every pound of body weight, your knees receive four times the burden. And, when you add high-impact activities — such as jumping, running, and playing sports — the shock levels are increased. Therefore, you should always ease into these types of activities gradually. This ensures a lower risk of injury. But, what happens when you suddenly start feeling pain and discomfort? Is it a strain? How can you recognize this type of injury, and how is it treated?
Anatomy of the Knee
The knees are composed of the femur (the thigh bone), the tibia (the shin bone), and the patella (the ball of the knee). Holding all these bones together are four ligaments:
- The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which runs from the front to the back of the knees.
- The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), which also runs from front to back, and forms a crisscross with the ACL.
- The medial collateral ligament (MCL), which runs along the inside of the knees.
- The lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which runs along the outside of the knees.
What is a knee sprain?
A knee sprain occurs when you injure the ligaments around the knee joint. This could be the result of overstretching or tearing. ACL sprains tend to occur more often from playing contact sports — such as basketball or football. PCL injuries are more likely to occur from falling hard on your knees. Meanwhile, MCL and LCL injuries are usually the result of a hard blow to the side of the knees. All of these injuries require care by a medical professional to prevent complications such as chronic pain and arthritis.
Symptoms of a Knee Sprain
The symptoms of a knee sprain will vary depending on which ligament you injured. ACL sprains are usually accompanied by a popping sound and an inability to carry your body weight. A PCL sprain may feel worse if you get down on your knees. If you injured one of the side ligaments — the MCL or LCL — the knee will buckle in the opposite direction from the sprained ligament. This being said, there are common denominators across all injuries. These include:
- Muscle spasms
- A popping sensation
- Diminished range of motion
It’s also possible to not experience too many symptoms if the sprain is minor. For example, if the sprain only caused overstretching of the ligaments (Grade I sprain), it may take a few hours or even a full day for symptoms to appear. On the other hand, a torn or ripped off ligament (Grade II or III) will cause you to experience symptoms immediately.
Treating a Knee Sprain
If you’ve injured your knee, seek medical attention as soon as possible — especially if you’re having a hard time putting weight on it or if it’s swollen. Your medical provider will inspect the injured knee and test it for mobility, as well as take x-rays to determine whether the injury is a sprain or a fracture. For a Grade I or II sprain, your doctor will likely recommend pain relievers. Depending on the severity of the injury, these may be over-the-counter or prescribed. The doctor will then order the RICE method:
- Rest. Take a break from physical activities for the time period instructed by your doctor. Ask for recommendations about pillow positioning for easier sleep.
- Ice. Use an ice pack (or ice wrapped in cloth) for about 20 minutes several times a day. This will help reduce swelling as well as stop inside bleeding.
- Compression. You should wear a compression bandage, which can also help reduce swelling. Make sure not to wrap it around too tightly.
- Elevation. Keep your knee elevated at heart level as often as possible. This will help reduce swelling and pain. Prop it on pillows or blankets under your ankles.
Grade III sprains will likely require surgery to reattach a torn ligament. Once you heal from the operation, you’ll need physical therapy to strengthen the knee and to regain your full range of motion.
24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas
If you’ve injured your knee and the symptoms are not subsiding, let us help you. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.
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