Knee ligament injuries (or twisted knees) account for 40% of all knee problems. As they’re so common, everyone should know how to treat a twisted knee. (1)
Having said that, there are 5 steps most knee sprains have to go through to properly heal. I discuss the details of each of the steps here, as well as a few other related topics. These include:
- Step 1: Protecting your knee from further injury
- Step 2: Manage your knee pain and swelling
- Step 3: Move!
- Step 4: Physical therapy
- Step 5: Surgery (when necessary)
- Types of knee sprains
- Average recovery times of different sprains
Tap on any of the topics above to jump through sections. But, without further ado, here are…
5 steps for treating knee sprain injuries like a physio
1) Protect your knee from further injury
Ligaments keep the knee joint stable. So, when you have a torn ligament, your knee lacks stability. making it vulnerable to more damage.
This makes protecting your joint the first step to healing from your knee injury.
Now, the degree of protection will depend on the severity of the tear.
Mild sprains may get by with some rest and a knee sleeve. But, moderate or severe tears may need a hinged knee brace.
This may help: 5 Differences between a knee sleeve and a brace
2) Manage knee pain and swelling
Pain is an alarm that reminds you the area is vulnerable. Swelling, on the other hand, takes repair cells to the damaged tissue and makes sure it recovers properly.
So, we don’t want to mute pain or have no inflammation at all. Otherwise, the tear won’t heal. But, excessive pain and swelling can also delay your recovery.
Focusing on natural strategies that reduce swelling and pain will get you to that sweet spot with boosted healing.
Keep reading: What to use for a twisted knee – ice or heat?
3) Start moving as early as you can
Early movement not only helps reduce swelling and pain but it can also boost your recovery if done properly. It’s best to do this under the supervision of a healthcare provider, though.
Now, the “best” exercises for knee sprains will vary.
In a severely injured ligament, they can look like quad squeezes. For others, it could be walking to help the sprain heal.
Whatever the case, these early exercises will strengthen your knee joint and get you back to normal.
Later in your recovery, you can take this a step further by strengthening with an elastic bandage, bodyweight exercises, or weights.
4) Go to physical therapy
This is one of the best ways to heal a knee sprain as fast as possible. A physical therapist will tailor the treatment of your injured knee according to:
- The severity of your injury.
- Your lifestyle, needs, and goals.
- Past knee injuries.
This customization will help you heal faster and reduce your risk of re-injury.
PS: We can help you find a qualified physical therapist. Just give us a call.
5) Severe sprains may require surgery
Generally, surgery becomes an option if:
- Conservative treatment (including the previous steps) isn’t enough, or
- You’re an athlete who wants to go back to your sport as fast as possible.
Those criteria also mean that surgery is mostly reserved for competitive athletes with grave injuries. An example would be PCL injuries as they tend to be severe.
Most times, the procedure is done by arthroscopic surgery. This is a minimally invasive technique that can reduce recovery times.
Types of knee joint sprains
Knee sprains happen when a ligament of this joint stretches beyond its capacity.
This is a mild sprain. Here, the ligament is stretched but isn’t torn.
There’s some mild swelling and pain but you can still do your daily activities. You can walk and bear weight on the injured leg.
This is a moderate sprain, where one or more ligaments have a partial tear.
Your knee will likely feel unstable. You’ll have pain, swelling, and some stiffness – these are normal responses to protect the ligaments while they heal.
This is a severe sprain. Here, one or more ligaments have a complete tear.
You’ll have knee instability which feels like your knee gives out from under you. There’s often a “pop” at the moment of injury as well.
Depending on what caused the sprain, there may also be other knee issues. Like a broken bone or a meniscus tear, for example.
Knee sprains average recovery time
Apart from the type of injury, we also have to consider which ligament was injured.
This, combined with the grade of the sprain, tells us approximately how long the knee sprain will take to heal.
Let’s look at each knee ligament and its average healing time:
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
This is one of the most commonly injured ligaments in athletes. An ACL injury often happens after changing directions while running or after a direct collision. (3)
Severe ACL tears with surgical repair can take about 18 months to heal. (3)
Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
This is another commonly injured ligament. MCL sprains happen after the knee suddenly bends inward. It usually happens in sports with frequent lateral movements such as skiing, hockey, and soccer.
Treatment is often conservative and often takes at least 6 weeks. Wearing a knee brace in an MCL sprain can boost recovery for most people. (1)
Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
This ligament is two times stronger than the ACL, making PCL sprains uncommon. (4)
Yet, they still happen when an extreme force pushes the shin bone back while the knee is bent. For example, during a car crash when the dashboard pushes the knees posteriorly.
The treatment will depend on the symptoms. If they are mild, the patient may improve without surgery.
Should surgery be necessary, the average healing time is 9 months. (4)
Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
This ligament is on the outer side of the knee. Due to its position, it’s rare to have an isolated LCL sprain – these injuries often involve other knee structures.
A direct blow on the inner side of the knee with the leg extended can sprain the LCL. It can take at least 4 months to heal in surgically repaired ligaments. (2)
How long does it take a twisted knee to heal?
It can take from a few days to months. This depends on the severity of the sprain, the number of ligaments affected, your lifestyle, whether you’re an athlete or not, and other factors.
Will a twisted knee heal on its own?
Most of them can heal on their own with a good treatment plan. Severe sprains may need surgery to fully heal, though.
Is it OK to walk on a sprained knee?
If walking doesn’t make your symptoms worse, then yes. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re not sure.
Conclusion: How to treat a sprained knee?
Knee ligaments connect the shin bone to the thigh bone while keeping the joint stable. If any of them are sprained, there are several things you can do to heal.
The treatment for a twisted knee is fairly simple. But, it requires patience – going back to your usual activities before you’re ready can cause another injury.
It’s best to do it under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
- Naqvi U, Sherman Al. Medial Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2021 Jul 22]. Statpearls. Retrieved on November 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431095/
- Yaras RJ, O’Neill N, Yaish. Lateral Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2021 Aug 4]. Statpearls. Retrieved on November 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560847/
- Evans J, Nielson Jl. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2021 Feb 19]. Statpearls. Retrieved on November 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499848/
- Raj MA, Mabrouk A. Posterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries. [Updated 2021 Aug 14]. Statpearls. Retrieved on November 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430726/