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What Is a Knee Strain?

Sprinters may experience knee strain.
A knee strain results in immediate pain.
A person wearing a knee brace.
A diagram of the knee.
Knee injuries are common in sports.
A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 April 2014
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A knee strain is an acute injury in which tendons and ligaments become stretched or torn. Most strains occur because of direct blows to the knee, extreme bending or twisting of joints, or overuse through repetitive activity. The most common symptoms include pain, swelling, loss of mobility, and a lack of strength. Depending on the severity of a knee strain, an individual may be able to ease symptoms and recover with rest and simple home remedies. A serious strain usually requires immediate medical attention, surgery, and several weeks of physical therapy.

Knee tendons and ligaments connect muscles to leg bones, provide stability, and allow the knee joint to move and bend. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is an especially large, important ligament that is commonly strained in sports and other physical activities. The ACL and nearby tendons can be injured when the knee strikes the ground, or when a sudden twist extends the joint beyond its normal range of motion. Strains can also result from repetitive activity, such as lifting heavy objects or frequently sprinting and stopping.

A knee strain usually results in intense, immediate pain and swelling. An individual may find that it is impossible to bend the knee or put weight on the leg without assistance for many days. Damaged tissue becomes inflamed and stiff, and is usually very tender to the touch. A person may also notice a cracking or popping noise when moving the knee, which is a sign of internal swelling and pressure on the joint.

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A mild knee strain, one in which the leg still has some mobility and the pain is not overwhelming, may heal in as little as two weeks. Healing time can be shortened by resting the leg as much as possible and icing the joint regularly. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce swelling, and a knee brace can be used to provide stability and cushioning. Once a knee begins feeling better, light stretching exercises can help to promote strength and flexibility. Doctors often recommend that people can take short walks and perform lunges to rehabilitate damaged knee tissue.

More severe, debilitating strains should be evaluated by licensed physicians. A doctor can examine the knee, take x-rays to check for tears and damaged cartilage, and decide on the best treatment. Some injuries require invasive surgery to mend torn tendons and ligaments. Recovery after knee surgery can take up to six months and typically includes regular sessions with a physical therapist. By working with a therapist and following doctors' orders, an individual with a bad knee strain is usually able to return to everyday activities and sports.

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Discuss this Article

anon227289
Post 4

I have a knee strain, but I can walk slowly. I strained my knee five days ago. So what should I do to get it back to normal?

pharmchick78
Post 3

@galen84basc -- First of all, it is virtually impossible to diagnose someone on the internet despite what all the websites tell you, so above all, I would advise you to go to a doctor if there is pain and swelling.

Any time there is heat and pain in a joint, it can be a sign of trouble, so it really doesn't matter whether it's a sprain or a strain -- either way, you'll need medical care if the pain, swelling, and heat doesn't go away within 24 hours.

With proper treatment, it's very possible to have a full recovery, but if you let it go, you could be in for a long period of rehab or even knee surgery, so get it checked out right away. And next time, ask your doctor and not the internet.

Best of luck.

galen84basc
Post 2

Hi -- could you tell me some more about knee strain symptoms, specifically how to tell the difference between a knee sprain and strain?

I fell yesterday and now my knee is all swollen and warm to the touch. It is also very discolored and there is a lot of pain in the knee as well, so I'm worried that I might have done some serious damage.

So could you tell me how to tell if I've got a knee ligament strain or simply a sprain, and then what to do in terms of knee treatment for each kind of problem?

Thank you very much.

TunaLine
Post 1

Very interesting -- I never knew that there was actually a condition called knee strain. I always just thought that people were referring to a knee sprain, or just a knee muscle strain. I guess you learn something new every day!

That is reassuring to hear that there are a lot of knee strain treatment options out there though. I can only imagine what a pain that would be do deal with. I walk a lot for my job, and that would about be the end of me if I had to stay immobile for that long.

So here's hoping for good knee health...

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