How long does it take for knee ligament injuries to heal?
The time it takes for your knee injury to heal depends on which part of your knee you’ve injured and how badly it’s affected. A mild sprain to your medial collateral ligament (MCL) may recover in as little as one to two weeks.
A grade 2 MCL injury, which is quite common, usually heals in six to eight weeks if you wear a hinged knee brace. You can help yourself to heal by following the PRICE method immediately after the injury. PRICE stands for protect, rest, ice, compress and elevate. See our section on treatment of knee injuries for more details.
If your injury is more severe, or if you need surgery, return to sport can take up to 12 months.
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 be assessed by a surgeon, who may recommend reconstructive surgery.
It’s also important to follow the advice and exercise recommendations your GP or physiotherapist give you.
Can arnica help with my knee injury?
Arnica is often promoted as a treatment to help relieve soft-tissue injuries such as sprains and strains. It has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy. You may come across arnica in two main forms: as a homeopathic (very, very diluted) therapy taken by mouth, or as a cream or ointment for putting directly on your skin (a topical treatment).
Although a few studies have shown that applying arnica to your skin may help a little with sore joints, it probably has very little effect. Because of this, doctors don’t usually recommend it. There’s no convincing evidence that taking homeopathic arnica remedies can help with sprains and strains.
I have osteoarthritis. Am I more likely to get a knee injury?
The pain from osteoarthritis may cause you to use your knee joints less, so the muscles can weaken. 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 – these will help the muscles around your joints. It’s helpful to do strengthening exercises on both legs, even if your arthritis is on only one side. Exercising your quadriceps (thigh muscles) will help to stop your knee giving way.
- Aerobic activity – this is activity such as swimming or cycling (or 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 – these may help to keep 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.
Try to do exercise regularly – little and often is usually best. A physiotherapist can discuss with you which type of exercise is best for you in your circumstances. Always follow their advice.
My GP says I have housemaid’s knee. What’s that?
Housemaid’s knee is the common name for the medical condition called prepatellar bursitis.
A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac which acts as a sort of cushion or lubrication. You have many bursae around your body, mainly in and around your joints to prevent friction between the tissues when they move. The bursa between your kneecap and the overlying skin is called the prepatellar bursa. Bursae can become inflamed – this is called bursitis. When a bursa becomes inflamed, it produces more fluid so it swells.
Prepatellar bursitis is often caused by the pressure of kneeling forwards for long periods. This is where the name ‘housemaid’s knee’ comes from – in years gone by, housemaids would spend a lot of time on their knees scrubbing floors. These days, it’s more commonly seen in tradesmen such as carpet fitters or roofers.
Prepatellar bursitis can also be caused by a direct blow or fall onto your knee. And it’s more common in people who have gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Occasionally, prepatellar bursitis is caused by a bacterial infection, especially in children.
Symptoms of prepatellar bursitis may include:
- swelling over the front of your kneecap which appears over several hours to several days
- pain in your knee which is worse when you bend it
- difficulty with kneeling and walking
- redness of the skin over your knee
If there’s an infection, your knee may look red, feel hot and painful, and you may have a raised temperature. Always see your GP if you have these symptoms.
In most cases, you can treat prepatellar bursitis simply at home. Your GP will recommend that you rest and apply an ice-pack to your knee. See our section on treatment of knee injuries for more details. While you have symptoms, don’t repeat the activity that caused the inflammation in the first place.
Your GP will probably also recommend over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, which will reduce the pain and inflammation.
You may find that a stick or cane is useful for a while to help you walk. Your GP may also refer you to a physiotherapist if you have a reduced range of movement in your knee.
If there are signs of infection in your knee, your GP will prescribe antibiotics. They may also take a small sample of fluid from the bursa through a needle (aspiration). They’ll send the fluid to a laboratory to look for and identify any bacteria. The laboratory may find certain crystals in the fluid if you have gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
You can reduce your risk of getting prepatellar bursitis by wearing knee pads while you work, or kneeling on a cushion. Also, try to take regular breaks, or change what you’re doing to give your knees a rest.