Physical Therapy for Sprained Knee – Steps to Take to Speed up the Recovery
Knowing how to deal with the sprained knee and taking action necessary will significantly speed up the recovery, reduce the pain, and get you back on the track. When you treat a sprained knee the right way, you will also reduce the chance of that injury from happening again.
Physical therapy for sprained knee includes the initial treatment and the exercises for rehab. If you take all the steps and be careful in your treatment, you will be back on your feet in no time. Almost all cases can be fully treated by physical therapy with no surgical treatment involved.
How likely is a sprained knee to happen?
Out of all knee injuries, ligament injuries make up almost a half. And there is around 40% chance that the injury will happen again. There are four main ligaments that are common to be sprained in the knee. And two of them are most likely to be sprained, LCL and MCL.
I will focus on these two, how to treat and heal them faster. The sprained knee is most likely to happen with activities that involve jumping and twisting of the leg.
Where are LCL and MCL ligaments positioned?
They are found on each side of the knee. LCL is on the outer side, and MCL is found on the inner side of the knee. They keep the knee in place, and they prevent it from going too far out or too far in. The MCL ligament is a lot more injured than LCL.
Both of these ligaments are most commonly injured in sports. And sports which involve direct physical contact are the ones where these ligaments are very prone to injury.
The first signs and symptoms
The pain is the first thing that is felt, following with the tenderness on the location of the sprained ligament. It could be on the inside or the outside of the knee. Shifting weight on the hurt knee results in increased pain.
Loss of stability in the knee and muscle spasms in that leg are clear symptoms of a damaged ligament. In some cases swelling around the knee can occur. Depending on the severity of the injury. Light cases might not include swelling at all, while some moderate and serious injuries might involve the swelling all around the joint.
How long does the recovery last?
If you take proper care of your sprained knee, the recovery time can be between two and six weeks. The recovery time can be a lot longer if you don’t take the initial self-treatment and knee rehab after that. Rehab is very important, and not taking it seriously can lead to chronic injuries and disability for a long-term.
Serious sprains where ligaments are highly damaged and torn require a lot more recovery time. The knee has to be in a brace for four to six weeks, so ligament can heal properly.
The initial treatment in the first three days of the injury can significantly speed up the recovery process.
So act instantly and do the following:
- Rest and avoid any excessive physical activity.
- Apply ice on the knee for ten minutes for every hour.
- Compress the knee and secure it with a knee sleeve
- Elevate the knee above your heart. You can lay down and put the pillow under the knee to elevate it.
There are some methods that people instinctively do to help themselves, but they are making the injury a lot worse.
Some of the most common mistakes to be avoided:
- Don’t heat up the knee and area around it.
- Don’t apply the alcohol unless you have minor bleeding in order to disinfect it.
- Avoid running completely.
- Don’t massage the area at all.
A lot of people don’t realize that these things increase the blood flow to the area, and by getting more blood in there, they increase the inflammation, which can lead to longer healing time and even worsen the injury.
What you can do is to keep moving, not too much, but be sure that you have the best walking shoes for bad knees, so the footwear helps you strengthen the ligament and heal up faster. Avoid flip-flops and high heels, for your own sake.
As I already said, rehab exercises have to be taken seriously, unless you don’t want to use your knee to its full potential. If you slack on any of these exercises, you are risking a permanent disability and increasing the possibility of the injury to happen again. Rehab exercises for sprained knee are similar to knee tendonitis exercises so follow them in detail.
Proprioception exercises are a part of the rehab process, so you don’t lose your balance. Proprioception is a sense of your brain to determine where the body parts are located. By improving this ability, you will increase your balance, and thus prevent the injury from happening again.
Start with some simple exercises like single leg standing. Stand close to a wall with one hand touching the wall at the start to give you some security. Raise one leg and slowly put your hand away from the wall. Once you are able to do this for 60 seconds, you can try something more advanced.
Now try to do the same thing but on a folded towel. By doing that you will make the surface less stable and it will make you balance more. When you stand on the folded towel for 60 seconds, add another one. And when two towels are not the challenge for you anymore, then use only one towel, but roll it up.
Once towels become too easy, you can use balance boards at the nearest gym. Ask the staff what kind of balancing tools they have, and mention your injury, they should have a lot of options available, like bosu balls or wobble boards.
Strength and range of motion exercises
Now that you conquered and overcame the proprioception exercises, it’s time to increase the strength and range of motion of the knee. You will be doing a series of exercises in the two week period.
In the first week you should do:
Lay on your back
Slide your foot back and forward on the surface while bending the knee
Do 3 series of 10 reps
Don’t train through the pain
Straight leg raise
- Lay on your back
- Lift your leg while keeping it straight about 5 inches above the surface
- Do 3 series of 10 reps
- Grab a roller if you’re at the gym, or roll the towel up and place it under your knee
- Lay flat on the surface
- Lift the heel up and hold it for 5 seconds
- Repeat 10 times
In the second week you should advance to some more demanding exercises:
- Stand on a step, bring the leg with the injury close to the edge, with your heel off of it.
- Push your heel down and hold for 30 seconds
- Feel your calf being stretched and do not train through pain
- Stand close to a something you can grab onto, like a chair
- Lift your foot and grab it with your hand behind your back
- Pull your foot up and hold for 30 seconds until it hurts too much
- Sit on a flat surface with injured leg straight and in front of you
- Reach your toes with both of your hands
- Hold of 30 seconds as much as the pain allows; it’s ok if you feel a little bit of pain if it hurts too much, then stop
Single leg squats
- Stand with your hands straight in front of you
- Hold onto something if you have to
- Lift your healthy leg up and straight in front of you
- Proceed to perform a squat
- Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- This is the most demanding exercise here, so do not train if you feel pain and go down as much as you’re comfortable
When you complete the entire treatment and rehab process, you can start going back to your regular walking and jogging routine. And when you start jogging make sure you have the right running shoes. But do it with gradually increasing the intensity, you might feel like you can go to sprint at once, but your knee is not ready for it yet.
Start low but increase the pace and volume as the time goes by, and your knee will be back in full operation. The physical therapy for the sprained knee is the key to a full recovery.