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Knee injuries

Key points

  • Knee injuries can cause pain, swelling, bruising and instability.
  • If you injure your knee, use PRICE (protect, rest, ice, compression, elevation) for the first two to three days.
  • See your GP within a day if your knee is very painful and you can't put your weight on it.
  • A physiotherapist can give you exercises to help your knee recover or you may need surgery.

Group of people jogging in the park - knee ligament injury information

This section contains answers to common questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.

I have sprained a ligament in my knee. How long will it take to heal?

Answer

The time it takes for your sprain to heal depends on which part of your knee you have injured and how badly it’s affected. For example, for a mild sprain to the medial collateral ligament, full recovery may take as little as one to two weeks. But if your injury is more severe, or if you require surgery, return to sport can take up to 12 months.

Explanation

Sprains, strains and tears in knee ligaments and damage to knee cartilage take time to repair themselves. The most important way to help your injury to heal is to follow the PRICE method immediately after the injury. PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. If your symptoms don't improve or any pain or swelling gets worse, talk to your GP about physiotherapy or other treatment. It may be that you will need to have reconstruction surgery.

It’s also important to follow the advice and exercise recommendations your GP or physiotherapist give you.

Can homeopathic arnica help with my knee injury?

Answer

It's unlikely. There is no convincing evidence that taking homeopathic arnica remedies can help with sprains and strains.

Explanation

Arnica is often promoted as a treatment to help relieve soft-tissue injuries such as sprains and strains. You can buy arnica as a homeopathic medicine, but studies don’t show any convincing evidence that it can help with sprains or strains. Therefore, doctors don’t recommend it.

I recently sprained my medial collateral ligament while skiing. Are there any exercises that I can do to help me recover?

Answer

There are exercises you can do to help your ligament recover from an injury. But it’s important that you don’t do too much too soon otherwise you will do more damage to your knee. Immediately after your injury, it’s important to follow PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation).

Explanation

Your GP or physiotherapist may recommend that you wear a hinged knee brace to help your recovery. He or she will be able to recommend some simple exercises that you can do at home to help you recover from your injury. They will also advise you when to start doing them. The exercises are designed to help build your range of movement at the joint and strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee.

You may be advised to try gently and slowly transferring some of your body weight onto your affected leg at first. You can also try lying on the floor with a ball under your knee for support and gently extending your leg as far as you can without pain. Or you can try slowly raising your injured leg while it’s extended straight in a lying or sitting position.

After two or three weeks you might be able to start transferring more weight onto your affected leg. Eventually, you will be able to stand on just the affected leg without pain. Once you can bend and straighten your knee without any pain, you may want to strengthen your leg muscles with squats, lunges and weight-bearing movements. This will help prepare you to take part in sport again.

It’s important to take things slowly and only move your knee within a range that is painless. Stop if the movement is uncomfortable or painful. As your ligament recovers, you will gradually be able to put more weight on the affected leg and move the joint a little further without pain. This information is given as a guide only, as recovery times vary between people. The amount you can do and how quickly you can do it will also depend on how severe your injury is.

Is a knee injury more likely because I have osteoarthritis?

Answer

Osteoarthritis can sometimes cause damage to knee ligaments. It may also cause muscle weakness in the muscles surrounding your knee, putting extra strain on the ligaments. Likewise, certain injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament rupture, meniscal tears and articular cartilage injury, may increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis.

Explanation

Osteoarthritis affecting the knee can sometimes cause damage to your ligaments and muscles. However, by keeping active and regularly exercising your knee, you can strengthen muscles to help prevent injury. Exercise may also reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis and help to prevent longer-term disability.

Aim to do a combination of different types of exercise. Strengthening exercises will help the muscles around your joints – this will help to stabilise your joints and also help with your pain. Your doctor or physiotherapist may ask you to do some quadriceps (thigh muscle) exercises. Your quadriceps muscles become weaker when you have osteoarthritis so exercising to strengthen them is important.

Also, try to do some aerobic activity, such as swimming or cycling – anything that increases your heart rate and makes you slightly out of breath. This type of exercise can help to reduce pain, and also improve your general health and wellbeing. Aerobic activity can also help you to lose excess weight or control your weight. This reduces your chances of your knee problems getting worse in the future.

Range-of-movement exercises and stretches may also be important in keeping you flexible and mobile. This type of exercise involves moving your joints through their full range of movement and then trying to move a little further beyond this.

It's important to get advice about which types of exercise are best for you. This will help prevent you putting strain on individual joints and muscles that can lead to injury and longer-term problems. Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist, specialist nurse or rheumatologist (a specialist dealing with the musculoskeletal system, the joints and surrounding tissues) for specialist advice.

 

Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, 30 August 2013.

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For our main content on this topic, see Information.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.


  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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