Not-so-fun fact: 40% of all knee injuries are knee sprains. As they’re so common, it’s useful to know how to heal a sprained knee quickly. (1)
A knee sprain happens when knee ligaments stretch beyond their capacity. The severity of the sprain will determine the average recovery time.
But, there are some things you can do to speed up the healing rate. And, no, I’m not just talking about icing your knee. There are more ways than that.
That said, here are 7 ways to heal your knee sprain fast. I’ll also tell you about the average recovery time, depending on:
- The type of sprain: mild, moderate, or severe.
- The injured ligament: ACL, PCL, MCL, or LCL.
7 ways to heal a knee sprain fast
Before we start, you should know this:
These tips will enhance your recovery but they won’t rush physiology.
Mild sprains take between 4 days and 4 weeks to heal. Moderate or severe sprains take longer. There’s no way around it.
But, there are several things you can do to make sure you stay within the normal timeframe. Or, better yet, make sure you recover as fast as possible and reduce your risk of re-injury.
Without further ado, combine these 7 tips to heal your knee sprain as soon as possible:
1) Take care of your knee sprain at home
You’ll have to care for your sprain at home, regardless of the severity of your injury. For ligament injuries, most healthcare providers recommend doing two things at home:
The PRICE protocol.
This can reduce pain and swelling. It’s most effective during the first 3-5 days after injury. PRICE stands for:
- Protection. Your sprained ligament won’t support your knee as usual. This puts you at risk of reinjury. Prevent this by protecting your knee. You can do so with a knee brace – more on that below.
- Rest. This is key to letting healing run its course.
- Ice. Ice your knee 2-3 times per day, 10 minutes at a time. Try not to do it more times per day, as excessive ice can hinder recovery. (2)
- Compression. Compress your knee joint with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling. It shouldn’t be painful or restrict blood flow, though. You can apply compression during the day with a knee sleeve as well.
- Elevation. Elevate the leg with some pillows as often as possible. In that position, the blood flow will wash down some of the inflammation fluid.
Taking anti-inflammatory medication for knee pain.
Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce pain. And yes, less pain can make it easier for you to go back to normal. But, take these medications only if you need them. Some research suggests they can hinder recovery. (2)
2) Move within your pain limits
Movement promotes healing. It can reduce knee pain and stiffness as well. A safe way to do this is with light movements at first. But, it’s key to use your symptoms as a guide. (Dubois)
For example, try walking a little. If it’s painful, rest the knee and keep trying later. Do fewer steps next time. This will stimulate recovery within your current capacity.
3) Wear a knee support to promote healing
There are several types of knee supports. They can promote the healing of your ligaments in different ways. Your healthcare provider will help you choose the best one for your needs. But, the most commonly used ones for knee sprains are:
- Knee sleeves. They can reduce inflammation and pain. Sleeves are best for mild sprains. They can help you return to physical activity safely, too.
- Hinged knee braces. These are bulkier, giving you extra support. A brace reduces the stress on the ligament while it heals. Knee braces are best for moderate or severe knee sprains.
4) Sleep +7 hours to promote recovery
Sleeping is important, yes. But, it’s key to recover from an injured knee. Research shows sleep problems can delay healing.
This is because our bodies repair our cells faster when we’re sleeping. Sleep disruptions inhibit this process, so your body needs more time to heal. 7-9 hours of quality sleep can make you heal faster.
5) Eat nutritious foods so your ligament heals
Your body needs fuel and building blocks to repair tissues. These come from the foods we eat. And, nutritional deficiencies can delay healing, according to studies.
Hippocrates was right when he said, “let food be thy medicine.” You’ll need a balanced and healthy diet to recover. Also, the more severe your injury, the more important your nutrition will be. Try increasing your intake of:
- Colorful vegetables,
- Lean protein,
- Complex carbohydrates, and
- Healthy fats.
Avoid processed foods as they generally don’t have any significant nutritional value. To speed up your recovery time, eat natural foods instead.
6) Manage stress to the best of your ability
Yes, I know this is a hard one.
This inhibition happens because stress slows down hormones that promote cell growth. This, in turn, slows down healing.
Try managing stress by doing activities you enjoy without overexerting your knee.
7) Go to physical therapy
This is one of, if not the best way to heal a sprained knee fast. A physical therapist will check your knee and give you a treatment that will:
- Keep your range of motion. That way you won’t lose it during your recovery.
- Enhance your knee sprain healing even more.
- Decrease the risk of further injury with stretches and other exercises.
- Help you return to normal as fast and safely as possible.
Having said that, quality physical therapy is one that’s personalized. So, find a physiotherapist specialized in your needs – return to sports, managing chronic conditions, for children, or the elderly, for example.
What if these treatments for knee sprain aren’t enough?
Mild and some moderate knee sprains improve with conservative treatment. That includes the tips above, specific physical therapy, or injections to reduce pain.
But, depending on the severity, some sprains will need physical therapy for longer. Others will need surgery to improve.
A doctor may recommend surgery for athletes with a torn ligament. This will make sure they return to sports fast. Also, people with severe knee instability may feel better after surgical intervention.
P.S. Keep in mind that surgery is a personal decision. If you’re considering it, talk to both your therapist and doctor about the pros and cons.
Types of knee sprains and their recovery time
The severity of the sprain
Mild sprains take 4 weeks on average.
Here, the ligament stretched but didn’t tear. You can bear weight on your injured leg. There’s a little bruising, but you can do your usual activities.
Moderate sprains can take 10-20 weeks to heal.
The ligament tore, but not completely. You may feel a popping sound at the moment of injury. It can be hard to bear weight on the leg. There can be some instability too.
Severe sprains take several months.
The ligament tore completely, so it won’t stabilize the knee. The knee will probably give out under you. Severe bruising and swelling appear during the first 24 hours.
The recovery time will also depend on:
The injured knee ligament
Ligaments are tough bands of tissue. They stabilize our joints and keep our bones together. Our knees have many ligaments. But, four are prone to tears:
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
This ligament often sprains during sports. Most cases happen after twisting the knee or changing directions. Thus, ACL sprains are common in running and contact sports. (4)
Most of these sprains are severe. So, the recovery tends to be the longest – from 4 to 18 months. This period includes surgery and sports-specific physical therapy. (4)
Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
This ligament is twice as strong as the ACL, so PCL sprains are less common. They happen after an extreme force pushes the shin bone with the knee bent. (5)
PCL sprains can happen during car accidents if the dashboard pushes into the bent knee. They can also happen after falling on your knees.
They can take up to 9 months to recover. The treatment is conservative most of the time. (5)
Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
This ligament is on the inner side of the knee. It can get sprained if the knee bends suddenly inward. Like when running and changing directions.
Mild and isolated MCL sprains can take 4-6 weeks to heal. They can take longer depending on the severity and other structures affected. (1)
Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
The LCL is on the outer side of the knee. It can sprain after a direct blow on the inside of the knee. But, it’s rare to have an isolated LCL injury because most of them happen in contact sports.
They take at least 4 months to recover, depending on the severity of the injury. (3)
How long can it take to heal a sprained knee?
It can take from a few days to 18 months. This depends on:
- The severity of the sprain.
- Which ligament was affected.
- The lifestyle and occupation of the patient.
For example, an athlete with a severe tear will need several months to get back to their previous capacity. An office worker may need less time.
Is it OK to walk on a sprained knee?
If it doesn’t make your symptoms worse, then yes. But, if you feel instability or can’t bear weight on the leg, don’t walk on a sprained knee. You can worsen the injury.
How should I sleep with a sprained knee?
Conclusion: How to heal a sprained knee fast?
Now you know how to cure a sprained knee fast! But, remember that it’s best to have individualized medical advice. A healthcare provider will be your best ally.
Finally, see a doctor if you feel knee instability. Or if you can’t bear weight on the injured leg. You may need medical attention to recover.
- Naqvi, Usker et al. “Medial Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries.” [Updated 2021 Mar 17]. Statpearls. Retrieved on September, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431095/
- Dubois, Blaise, et al. “Soft-tissue injuries simply need PEACE and LOVE.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 54,2 (2020): 72-73. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253
- Yaras, Reed et al. “Lateral Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries.” [Updated 2021 May 4]. Statpearls. Retrieved on September, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560847/
- Evans, Jennifer et al. “Anterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries.” [Updated 2021 Feb 19]. Statpearls. Retrieved on September, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499848/
- Raj, Marc et al. “Posterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries.” [Updated 2021 Jan 22]. Statpearls. Retrieved on September, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430726/