Oh, say can you see yourself grasping your knee like Wile E. Coyote with a minimal puff of smoke above your head and a wry look into the camera?
Of course not; at least, not every day. You see yourself carrying the ball to victory or dancing enchantingly across a stage.
Knee injuries happen. It pays to have an idea what a sprain is and how to treat it. You should also know that physical therapy exercises help ease the pain and strengthen the knee again.
Before you dance across that stage or make the wrong turn as you’re doing cardio, learn how the knee works and how it can be sprained. It will help you not to make those harmful movements.
How Do Knees Work?
In order to understand knee sprains, it is necessary to learn how the knee works.
Online information page Brainlab tells us the knee acts as a hinge between the thigh-bone (femur) and shin-bone (tibia).
The patella or kneecap covers the inner workings of the knee. Cartilage covers the ends of the bones to keep them from rubbing each other raw.
Ligaments join bones to each other. The knee has four ligaments, two of which run on the sides of the knees.
This YouTube video with two doctors explains how the knee works and how it can be injured.
They connect the thigh-bone to the shin-bone. These ligaments govern the side to side movement of the knee.
Two ligaments run under the patella and regulate the back and forth movement of the knee.
The patella is attached to muscles in the thigh or the quadriceps muscles. It allows the knee to straighten.
What Is A Knee Sprain?
Sports Injury Clinic explains that a knee sprain is when one of the ligaments on the inside or outside of the knee is impacted, usually during a sporting event.
An impact on the outside or the Medial ligament will cause pain on the inside of the knee.
An injury to the inside or Lateral ligament will cause pain on the outside of the knee.
The cruciate ligaments run behind the patella and cross each other in front. These are the back and forth ligaments.
Anterior cruciate ligament sprains happen when a twisting motion is involved.
Posterior cruciate ligament sprains occur when the knee is forcefully crunched backward.
There are stages or levels of knee sprains: level one is when the ligaments are merely hyper-stretched.
Level two is a little more serious, with from ten to 90 percent of the ligament torn. Level three is when the ligament is shredded.
What Are The Causes Of A Sprained Knee?
It surprises people to learn there are several ways a knee can sustain a sprain. Violent movement or impact isn’t the only way a knee can be injured. Sometimes weakness in the body can cause a sprain.
The Mayo Clinic alerts us to these causes of sprains:
Impacting the knee during sporting events like basketball, football, and snow skiing causes sprains.
An event involving quick or unexpected stops and then twists or turns causes sprains. These involve the ligaments.
Mechanical complications weaken the knees until they are open to a sprain. Things like a pain in the foot or hip make people walk differently to spare the pain.
This sends the knee in a direction it shouldn’t go, thus setting the stage for a possible sprain.
A fragment or chip from a bone, ligament, or tendon floats through the body. It sometimes gets caught in a joint, causing pain. This alters the gait and sets up the knee for a sprain.
Those living a sedentary lifestyle or who sit for long periods of time have weakened muscles. A knee with strong muscles around it isn’t open to injury.
Arthritis is nothing more than inflammation. Osteoarthritis is the most common, in which ligaments and tendons swell.
Rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune system turns on the body, affecting the synovia of the joint.
One of the complications of arthritis causing knee pain is that the joints can become twisted and misshapen.
This makes walking difficult if not impossible and further weakens the knee. The knee is then open to injury.
What Are Symptoms of Knee Sprain?
Following the “pop” people often hear upon impact, the symptoms vary depending upon which ligament is involved.
The symptoms also vary with the degree of injury. If the ligament is merely hyper-stretched, then the pain might be bearable.
However, if the ligament is torn to any degree, then the pain will appear accordingly on the side of the knee involved.
Pain from the two ligaments governing back and forth movement will be felt deeper inside the knee instead of to the sides.
The body packs water around an injured body part to protect it until help arrives. This gives the body part the appearance of swelling. This often makes movement difficult if not impossible.
When something can’t move, it becomes stiff. Think of a door hinge. The door will lock open to a certain degree. The range of motion, therefore, doesn’t exist. A sprained knee is the same.
Should you be able to put weight on the knee, it won’t be for long. A feeling of the knee about to give out will make you stop using it. With the swelling comes red skin, heat, as well as bruising.
Winchester Hospital alerts us that there could be swelling inside the knee as well.
What Is This Burning Sensation In The Knee?
Lots of people think a burning feeling means the nerves are being targeted.
Dr. Howard Luks says the burning is the result of inflammation. It happens to male and female, young and old.
Burning knees happen frequently to sporting enthusiasts. It happens when they train over-zealously or put all they have into that final rush for the win. It happens to people who aren’t athletes, too.
Turning the wrong way to exit the car or stopping suddenly to turn to avoid stepping on the puppy’s tail will do it every time. It also happens to the sedentary or those who sit for a long day at work.
What Does A Sprained Knee Feel Like?
Those with knee sprains, says WebMD, have noted a loud snap or pop when the injury occurred. An overstretched ligament won’t hurt much.
Level two sprains are when the ligaments are torn a bit. The pain will be a little worse. The knee will feel like it’s “giving way.” Swelling and bruising go with it.
Level three sprains are when the ligaments are completely torn. Pain will be very bad. No weight at all can go on the knee.
Those with a sprain won’t be able to straighten or flex the knee. Turning over during sleep or getting in and out of a car will be difficult and painful.
How Long Does It Take For A Sprained Knee To Heal?
Healing time explains Leading Edge Physical Therapy, depends upon the level of injury. A simple sprain without torn ligaments will take just a few weeks to heal.
Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy are all it takes to make it better.
Level two injuries, though, take a little longer and a little more effort. Immobilizing the knee behind tape or a brace helps the fibers of the ligament heal. Physical therapy not only helps the knee heal but prevents future injuries.
Level three sprains are the worst. The knee will need a brace and could require surgery. You’ll be out of your sport for the better part of a year.
Can You Walk On A Sprained Knee?
If the injury requires surgery, then walking on the knee would damage it further.
However, if the injury is less severe, then bracing the knee and walking with the aid of a walker, cane, or crutches is possible.
Can A Sprained Knee Be Healed Quickly?
Only if the sprain isn’t very serious can it be healed quickly, says WebMD. Medical professionals recommend the RICE method: Rest the knee, Ice the knee, Compress the knee to combat swelling, and Elevate the knee on a pillow.
Wear a knee brace to facilitate non-movement of the joint. In a braced environment, the ligaments can heal, as they are not called upon to take the weight. Anti-inflammatory medications help with swelling and pain.
Gentle stretches and strengthening exercises help the ligaments to regain their former strength.
A doctor will know what exercises you can do, but he will send you to a physical therapist anyway.
Tell Me About Knee Braces
From the simple swelling of arthritis to the burn of a sporting injury, there is a knee brace for you.
They begin with simple compression braces like this one on Amazon. These stabilize the knee and allows the insides to operate safely.
For the moderately sprained knee, there are wraparounds. These have a hole at the patella and tighten as the wearer sees fit. This is an example of a wraparound from Amazon.
The hinged knee brace supports the knee by allowing it to bend while still snugly holding it.
The knee bends gently, and the patella is supported as well. This Amazon product is a good example.
What’s The Difference Between Knee Sprain And A Tear?
It might seem like splitting hairs because a sprain is about a tear in the ligaments. A tear is a tear, no matter what you call it. There are some differences, though.
Let’s say you’re walking along, and you walk across loose gravel. One minute you’re strolling along and the next minute you’re lying on the gravel with one leg bent unnaturally behind you. While the muscles and ligaments might be torn somewhat, that is basically a sprain.
In another scenario, picture yourself doing high-intensity interval training or HIIT.
Let’s say you’re doing burpees. You jump in the air, land on your feet, bend over touching the floor, and then pump the legs back as if doing push-ups.
You spring back to the hands on the floor position preparatory to standing and jumping when your knee twists. A loud pop sounds throughout the room. You feel pain.
You’ve just torn a ligament in your knee. If you could see it, it would look like a sausage, not nicely cut but jaggedly ripped. These tears take months and sometimes upwards of a year to heal.
Sprains and tears both involve the hyper-stretching or tearing of a ligament or muscle.
The reason for the difference in terms is the degree to which the ligament or muscle is damaged. They are also different based on the length of recovery time.
What About Muscle Strain?
It’s confusing to call something by three separate names or terms. While they all have one common denominator, a ligament or muscle, they are characterized differently.
Science Daily describes a muscle strain as a hyper-stretch or tears in the muscle or ligament.
A strain is characterized by cramps and muscle spasms. The same bruising, swelling, and pain are present in a strain.
One of the differences is that people with a muscle strain or a strained ligament often work or play on the strained muscle or ligament because the “injury” doesn’t feel like an injury.
Healing strains works much the same way healing sprains and tears works. You will rest with the knee elevated, ice it down, and take anti-inflammatory medications for the swelling and pain. Depending on the intensity of the damage, it shouldn’t take long to heal.
Strained muscles or tendons don’t necessarily require a knee brace. In most instances, a simple ACE bandage wound around the injured area provides support and protection.
What Are The Healing Times Of A Sprained Knee?
Harvard Health tells us the length of recovery depends on many factors. The severity of the sprain or tear, the physical therapy regimen you undertake, and the activity you did when your knee sprained all have a say in how long before you heal.
Level one and two or hyper-stretched or muscles and ligaments are torn only a little should take two to four weeks to heal.
It’s the Level three sprain or tear that’s the most serious. If it’s torn so badly you need surgery, it will take between six months and a year to heal.
What Is The Treatment For Sprained Knees?
Harvard Health reminds us that if the injury isn’t severe, then NSAIDs, rest, and physical therapy will do the trick.
Examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen or Motrin and Advil in addition to Celebrex, naproxen or Aleve and Prevacid. Your doctor might even give you steroids to help with the swelling.
A tear will mend itself if it’s left alone. To help it gain strength, however, physical therapy exercises are vital. They are gentle and can be done from the bed or sofa where the knee is elevated.
Serious sprains and tears might call for a cast to help you heal. This is especially true of those who have to return to work and can’t take a month off. A walker or cane will be of benefit in this case.
It’s when the ligament is ruptured that surgery is the only option. The surgeon had to cut through muscle to get to the torn ligament. That in addition to the ruptured ligament requires time to heal.
Also used in the treatment of sprained or torn knee ligaments is injections. Corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid, and platelet-rich-plasma are all used to control pain and swelling.
Hyaluronic acid mimics a substance found in the body that keeps joints lubricated.
PRP contains substances from the body that help it heal. The effects of all this last as much as six months.
Tell Me About Physical Therapy Exercises
These exercises were designed to strengthen the muscles around the knee in order to keep it stabilized.
They can be done on a bed or sofa and should be done three times per day with three sets of ten exercises each.
Quad Contractions: The Sports Injury Clinic explains how to bend one knee, foot on the bed or sofa. Keep the other leg straight. Press down using the thighs for a count of ten.
Pointy Toes: Lying on a bed or sofa and keeping both legs straight, point the toes of the injured leg to the front as far as you comfortably can. Hold for a count of ten, then point the toes toward the ceiling for a count of ten. Do this ten times.
Leg Curls: Lie face down on bed or sofa. Slowly and gently lift and then lower the injured leg. Do this for a count of ten each.
Leg Raises: Stand on the uninjured leg with hand on a chair for support. Slowly and gently lift then lower the injured leg to the side as far as possible without pain in the knee. Do ten leg raises.
Leg Circles: Lying on a bed or sofa and keeping the other leg straight, lift the injured leg a few inches off the sofa or bed. Slowly and gently make circles with the leg, keeping it at all times lifted just slightly. Do this ten times.
Backward Leg Lift: Standing on the uninjured leg with hands on a chair for support, slowly and gently lift and then lower the injured leg towards the butt. Do this ten times.
Leg Crosses: Stand on the uninjured leg with hand on the chair for support. Slowly and gently cross the injured leg across the body and back again. Do ten leg crosses.
Knee Raises: Sitting on the bed or sofa, keep uninjured leg with foot flat on the floor. Slowly and gently lift and then lower the injured leg with knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Do ten knee raises.
Walking: Stand on the uninjured leg with hand on a chair for support. Slowly and gently extend the injured leg as if taking a stride. Do not swing but lift the leg ten times.
As the knee becomes stronger, exercises of a more robust nature will be introduced. These will be, as with the above, designed to strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the knee.
Squats: This will begin as half-squats to get the knee used to the idea. They will segue into full squats. Begin with ten squats, then move on to 20.
Lunges: Begin lunging forward with the uninjured knee. When the injured knee feels normal, move on to leading off with the injured knee. Begin with ten lunges, then move on to 20.
Bridge: This strengthens the quadriceps or thigh muscles supporting the knee. Lie flat on your back on a sofa or bed. With knees bent, lift the hips, keeping the back straight for a count of ten. Do ten bridges.
Steps: This exercise mimics climbing stairs, and strengthens the whole leg. Standing on the uninjured leg, step onto an exercise step or perhaps a filled suitcase to simulate a step. Do ten steps, then move on to 20 steps.
Leg press: The physical therapy facility will have a leg press machine. At home, this can be simulated using a few pillows up against a wall. Sitting on a chair, press the legs into the pillows ten times, moving on to 20 as the knee feels stronger.
The facility will have treadmills and ellipticals. Continuing work on these machines will further strengthen the knee and prevent future injuries.
You might be depending on the severity of the injury, use a swimming pool to help strengthen the knee.
We’ll bet you didn’t know you can do a few of those exercises in your bathtub if you, the family and neighbors, or the local Y don’t have a pool.