Getting a sprain to your knee can be very painful and debilitating. For the first few days, it may even completely knock you off your feet and keep you down. When you sprain your knee, you have overstretched a ligament in your knee and damaged the delicate fibers that help keep things together. It is often caused by forceful movement during sports, work, or falling. If you sustain a sprain, you may wonder about the knee sprain healing time. This article will help you understand what causes this and what it takes to get back on your feet.
Knee Sprain Healing Time: How Long Does It Take?
The period of knee sprain healing time in therapy depends on how bad your injury was and your body. Mild knee sprains usually take around 3 to 6 weeks to heal with therapy. Moderate knee sprains take from 8 to 12 weeks to heal. Here are the details:
Grade I – Will take a few weeks to fully heal. You will notice the strength return to the ligament at around six weeks as the collagen fibers grow back. Make sure you rest from anything that causes you pain, use the ice, and anti-inflammatories if your doctor recommends them.
Grade II – This type of injury takes around six-eight full weeks to heal. You will most likely have to wear a brace when bearing weight on the knee and use a support tape. These things will keep you from over-flexing the knee joint. Your doctor will most likely allow you to return to light duties once your ligament is stable and can hold the joint without pain. You may be sent for physical therapy where they do massage, exercises and electrical stimulation to the muscles.
Grade III – The doctor will most likely place you in a brace that has hinged to protect your joint from additional stress while healing. This type of injury usually takes around 3 to 4 months to heal.
What Can Be Done to Promote Healing?
In order to speed up the healing time, there are a few things you can do to help. You need to follow a treatment plan and take care of yourself. Immediate recovery begins around 24 to 48 hours after the injury, so it is important to use the “RICE” protocol early on. Here is how to treat a sprained knee:
Treat Initial Swelling (24 to 48 hours after injury)
Immediately after the injury, get ice on the injury to reduce the swelling. Talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.
Rest – For 48 hours after you injure your knee, you should put as little weight on it as possible. Stay off your feet and only get up to use the restroom. Ask your doctor or clinic for crutches to prevent weight bearing. You may need to stay home from work or school and avoid sports or other activities that cause you to put weight on the injured leg.
Ice – Immediately ice the injured area. Keep an icepack on your knee for 20 minutes and then take it off. Do this up to eight times the first 24 hours and then every four hours over the next few days. Make sure you wrap icepacks in a towel and never leave more than 20 minutes to prevent frostbite to the area.
Compression – Use an elastic wrap, elastic brace, or sports tape to gently compress the injured area. This will help bring down the level of swelling and keep the joint stable. Your doctor or emergency room staff will show you how to wrap the area to avoid cutting off circulation.
Elevate – During the first 48 hours, keep your leg elevated above your heart if possible. Use a few pillows to raise the leg. This will help keep swelling to a minimum. Over the next few days to weeks, continue to elevate the leg whenever possible to facilitate healing.
If you have severe swelling and pain during your knee sprain healing time, make sure you consult with your doctor. You may need further imaging (MRI, X-Ray) to make sure there are no major injuries to the knee.
If you take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, make sure you check the box for side-effects includingstomach pain and nausea. Anti-inflammatories should always be taken with food to protect your stomach.
Rehabilitation(72 hours to six weeks or more)
Your doctor will monitor your swelling and pain for a few days to even a week or two. Once you have reached a point where you can begin exercise, your doctor will allow you to progress to stage two of treatment. This will help reduce your knee sprain healing time.
- Increasing Range-of-Motion – If your doctor gives the okay, after a few days they may have you start doing gentle range-of-motion exercises to stretch the muscles and relieve stiffness. This will also help strengthen the joint and prepare it for physical therapy. The usual range-of-motion exercises include:
Pointing the toes and straightening the leg, and bending the knee up and down. If you are still having acute swelling and severe pain, the doctor may have you hold off a few more days. Below is the exercise recommended by NHS:
Range-of-motion exercises can actually be very helpful to increase blood flow, healing, reduce stiffness, and swelling. This portion usually lasts for the first two weeks after your injury, some may be ready for weight bearing exercise sooner and some may take longer.
- Increasing Strength – After the first two weeks, your therapist or doctor will assign you exercises to further increase flexibility of your knee muscle and increase strength. As your pain diminishes, the exercises will get harder to do and knee muscle function will slowly start to improve. They will work to get you back to your normal daily routine over the next four to eight weeks, depending on how bad your injury was. You will not be allowed to return to full daily activities until they think you are ready and sports will most likely be postponed even longer.
Prevention of Knee Sprains
One way to avoid the long period of knee sprain healing time is to prevent sprains in the first place. While they are not completely avoidable, you can reduce your risk by:
- Try to eat a healthy diet to improve muscle strength
- Keep your weight in a health range to reduce strain on the knees
- Avoid your favorite exercises, sports, or workouts when you are tired
- Use good fitting shoes that have good support
- Always stretch before exercise, sports, or heavy activity
- Do warm up repetitions to warm your muscles and prepare them for exercise.
- Always run on even surfaces in well-lit areas
- Use protection equipment when playing sports. Use knee pads and sports tape
- Warm up your muscles before you work out
- See a doctor before you begin a sports or exercise program
- Safety proof your home (Keep stairs lit, use a nightlight, secure loose rugs, and keep cords out of walking areas)