“Ligaments” are made up of many individual fibers running parallel to each other and bundled to form a strong fibrous band. These fibrous bands hold your bones together. Just like a rope, when a ligament is stretched too far, it begins to fray or tear. “Sprain” is the term used to describe this tearing of ligament fibers.
Sprains are graded by the amount of damage to the ligament fibers. A Grade I sprain means the ligament has been painfully stretched, but no fibers have been torn. A Grade II sprain means some, but not all of the ligamentous fibers, have been torn. A Grade III sprain means that all of the ligamentous fibers have been torn, and the ligament no longer has the ability to protect the joint. Knee sprains commonly involve one or more of your knee’s ligaments including: the medial collateral, lateral collateral, anterior cruciate, and posterior cruciate.
Most knee sprains begin as the result of a sudden stop, twist, or blow from the side or front. Some patients recall a “pop” or “snap” at the time of injury. Knee sprains cause pain and swelling within the joint. Your knee may be tender to touch, and some patients report a sensation of “giving way” or difficulty walking.
Most knee sprains can be successfully managed without surgery but will require some work on your part. Initially, a period of rest may be necessary in order to help you heal. Mild Grade I sprains may return to activity in a couple of days, while more severe injuries may take six weeks or longer to recover. You can help reduce swelling by elevating your knee and using an ACE wrap for compression. Applying ice or ice massage for 10 minutes each hour may help relieve swelling. Depending upon the severity of your sprain, you may need to wear a knee brace to help protect you from further injury. If walking is painful, crutches may be necessary.