How long does knee sprain recovery typically take?

knee sprain recovery

The knee is the largest joint in your body. The knee connects your femur (thighbone) to your tibia (shinbone). It also contains cartilage and ligaments. You may know these as the meniscus, LCL, MCL, ACL and PCL. Your knees not only help support your weight but also help your legs bend and move for movement. They also help you maintain your balance. The most common injuries to the knee include sprains and tears of the ligaments. If you have experienced a knee sprain, you may be wondering what your recovery timeline will look like. It depends on a number of factors including how you injured your knee, the classification of your injury and your treatment for recovery. 

Common causes and symptoms of a knee sprain

A knee sprain is an orthopedic injury caused by the stretching or tearing of the ligaments due to a sudden force or trauma. This can be due to hyperextending the joint or by a direct blow to the knee. Knee sprains are a risk in contact and non-contact sports. If you have experienced a knee sprain, you may experience some common symptoms including:

  • Swelling.
  • Pain.
  • Bruising.
  • Stiffness. 
  • Difficulty moving your knee or walking. 
  • Weakness in the knee. 
  • Popping sensation. 

The location of the knee pain may also help determine which ligament in your knee has been injured. If you are experiencing pain in the inner side of your knee, it could be indicative of the MCL (medial collateral ligament) being affected. Pain on the outer side of your knee could indicate an injury to your LCL (lateral collateral ligament). If you are experiencing widespread pain and instability in your knee, it could indicate that your ACL (anterior collateral ligament) has been injured. This injury also can be indicated by a “pop” at the time of the injury. Most knee sprains can have a full recovery. ACL injuries have an 80% chance of achieving full recovery. 

Classifications and healing time frame of a knee sprain

Knee sprains are classified in three levels of severity. For a proper diagnosis of severity, your health care provider will have an X-ray, MRI or arthroscopic procedure done on your knee. The classification of your knee injury also has an impact on the healing time frame of your knee sprain. The classifications include:

  • Grade 1 — A Grade 1 knee sprain is a minor knee sprain. It is an overstretched ligament. Symptoms tend to be mild due to less than 10% of the ligament fibers being damaged or torn. This classification can typically heal on its own with minimal intervention in a couple of weeks.

  • Grade 2 — A Grade 2 knee sprain is a moderate injury. There is more substantial damage to the ligament or ligaments than a Grade 1 injury. Symptoms are more noticeable than for Grade 1 but less severe than for Grade 3. This injury usually takes around two to six weeks to heal.

  • Grade 3 — A Grade 3 knee sprain is a severe injury. The entire ligament ruptures with a Grade 3 classification. This level of injury may require surgery to help achieve proper healing. This sprain is the most severe and can take from several months up to a year to fully heal.

Knee injuries can take a few weeks to heal if they are minor to months if the injury is more severe. Treatment can vary depending on the severity of the injury as well. 

Knee sprain treatments 

If your knee sprain needs treatment to help it heal, there are a variety of ways you can help treat your knee at home as well as additional treatments. If your knee sprain is severe enough, it may require surgery and physical therapy to help rehabilitate. A moderate injury may also benefit from physical therapy. 

At home treatments may include:

  • Knee brace or splint.
  • Rest.
  • Ice.
  • Compression. 
  • Pain medication. 

Physical therapy treatments for your knee sprain may include:

  • Therapeutic exercises — Therapeutic exercises can be a beneficial physical therapy treatment for your knee sprain. They can help you to rebuild strength and flexibility in your leg muscles and help you regain range of motion in your knee. Your physical therapist may adjust exercises as you progress through your physical therapy sessions.

  • Manual therapy Manual therapy techniques like soft tissue mobilization or joint mobilization may be utilized in your physical therapy sessions. Manual therapy is intended to help alleviate pain and improve flexibility and range of motion in your knee with the physical therapist using hands-on techniques. Manual therapy may be beneficial in treatment to help prevent surgery.

  • Kinesiology tapingKinesiology taping may help provide additional support and pain relief for your sprained knee. This technique uses a specific type of tape placed in certain areas around the knee to help provide support. It can be used on its own for a minor injury or added to a therapeutic exercise plan to help you find pain relief. 

Knee sprains don’t have to keep you down. Excel Sports & Physical Therapy can help

Excel Sports & Physical Therapy can have you on the road to recovery from your knee sprain. We have several locations offering convenient access to patients living or working in Saint Charles County, Warren County and St. Louis County. Our team strives to always provide our patients with top-quality, customized treatments. From simple to complex knee sprains, we can help you alleviate pain, improve your mobility and regain your strength. 

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.