You’ve probably heard of a sprained ankle, but did you know you could sprain your knee? The term ‘sprained knee’, is more of a generic term used to describe an injury to one of the four ligaments in your knee. Your knee ligaments, which are crucial to your balance and movement, surround your knee joint, connecting your thigh and shin bone together, and giving the joint support.
There are four ligaments, are as follows:
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
Your anterior cruciate ligament is located in the centre of you knee, and helps control the rotation and back-and-forth movement of the shin bone.
Posterior Cruciate ligament (PCL)
Your posterior cruciate ligament is paired with your ACL in the centre of the knee, providing the back-and-forth motion of the lower leg, and controlling the rotation of your leg.
Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)
Your medial collateral ligament runs along the inside of your knee joint, and provides stability to the knee, preventing it from bending too far inwards.
Lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Your lateral collateral ligament is the partner of your MCL, on the outside of your knee. Your LCL helps prevent the knee bending too far outwards.
Your knee ligaments can be sprained in any number of ways, but are most often caused by a bad fall, or a hard knock which forces the knee to move beyond its natural limits.
This causes a tear in one or more of the ligaments that support the knee, rendering it unstable, painful, and in severe cases practically unusable.
Most people are lucky enough not to experience a severely sprained knee, but they can occur.
Knee ligament injuries are categorised in three grades, from 1 (minor) to 3 (severe):
Grade 1 Knee Sprains
A Grade 1 ligament injury occurs when the ligament is stretched beyond its limits, causing microscopic tears to the affected ligament(s).
There is usually some pain and swelling with a grade 1 knee sprain, although it is not incapacitating.
Although Grade 1 injuries rarely significantly affect the stability and usability of your knee, without proper treatment they can develop into more severe injuries.
Treatment for a grade 1 sprain usually consists of a mild course of guided rehabilitation, and surgery is rarely necessary.
Grade 2 Knee Sprains
Grade 2 ligament ‘sprains’ are more severe and so often require a more medical approach to recovery.
Where the tears are only microscopic in a Grade 1 sprain, Grade 2 sprains have torn to the point where the tissues of the ligaments have begun to come apart.
This causes more pain and swelling than with a grade 1 injury, and much more instability of the knee, which is often most noticeable as your knee ‘giving way’ under pressure.
Treatment for Grade 2 sprains is similar to a grade 1 injury, but will include extra rehabilitation sessions and often you will be required to wear a brace to help support the joint as it repairs.
Grade 3 Knee Sprains
Where Grade 1 & 2 injuries are considered moderate, a grade 3 sprain is a serious injury which requires medical attention as soon as possible.
A grade 3 ‘sprain’ is actually a complete tear of the ligament.
As you can imagine, this can be incredibly painful, causes a lot of swelling, and renders the knee joint very unstable.
Once a ligament has suffered a rupture of this kind, it will never heal completely on its own.
For that reason, surgery is often required to completely restore the functionality of the knee, particularly for sporting purposes.
Accordingly, a much more extensive rehabilitation program will be required, with the use of additional protection for the joint, such as provided by a brace.
Unless you are regularly engaged in professional or intense sporting activities, you are unlikely to suffer a severe knee sprain.
Even if you do, around 80% of people who experience a knee sprain, whether to the ACL, PCL or the MCL, can expect to make a full recovery - provided they undergo proper medical diagnosis and treatment.
Unfortunately, many people never get a proper diagnosis and experience medical problems like osteoarthritis later in life as a result.
A professionally guided rehabilitation program is of course essential to making a full recovery from a sprained knee, or indeed any other injury.
If you think you have injured your knee, the first thing you should do is to seek the opinion of a qualified physiotherapist.
They will be able to give you a clear diagnosis and tell you if physiotherapy is the best treatment for you and exclude or not the need for brace or surgery.
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