Caring for a Knee Strain
Although a knee strain is not a serious injury such as a broken bone, it can be painful and cause long-term issues if it is not treated quickly and properly. This type of injury can be the result of improperly lifting a heavy object, minor impact, stress related to excessive exercise, and repetitive movements. It is a very common injury among athletes who participate in running sports, such as football, soccer, tennis, etc.
What is a knee strain?
A knee strain is an injury that affects the tendons and ligaments of the knee. Tendons and ligaments are responsible for connecting a bone to its surrounding muscle, allowing for joint movement and stability. A strain results when a ligament has been stretched too far or has been torn. In the medical world a strain is considered to be an acute injury because it occurs suddenly rather than gradually. Because the onset is typically immediate, it is a pretty easy condition to recognize. The most likely culprit is the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, which is a large ligament of the knee and the one most often related to knee injuries. The ACL can be injured if one suddenly twists the knee in a way that it is not meant to turn, such as slipping off of a curb. It can also be damaged by falling knee-first to the ground, such as stepping in a hole or tripping over something.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a knee strain come on very quickly and are easy to identify. The first symptom one experiences is an immediate pain in the knee which is usually sharp and intense. This is quickly followed by swelling around the knee that is obvious when compared next to the uninjured knee. It is also likely that one will have difficulty bending or applying pressure to the knee due to pain as well as the swelling. The skin and muscle will often be tender when touched, reddened, and warm to the touch due to the increased blood flow to the area. This is essentially the body’s way of quarantining the injured area. A popping or cracking sound may come from the knee when pressure is applied or when the joint is bent, which is another tell-tale sign of a strain injury.
How should a knee strain be treated?
Knee strains should be treated as soon as possible. As soon as a strain is suspected it is advised that all weight is taken off of the knee. One should find a place where they can elevate their leg and cushion the rear portion of the knee. Putting a long pillow under the knee and lower portion of the leg is a good way to offer support to the knee while discouraging movement. An ice pack should then be applied to the area to reduce swelling as well as take the edge off of the pain. A homemade ice pack can be constructed of a zip-top bag wrapped in paper towel or a hand towel. The ice should be pressed against the skin for about twenty minutes, but no longer than this, as keeping the tissues too cold for an extended period of time can actually kill the cells there.
After treating the area with ice it is recommended to wrap the knee with a compression bandage or a knee brace if one is available. This also reduces swelling and will ensure that the knee is properly supported while remaining immobile. At this point it is important to restrict movement as much as possible. The leg should be kept elevated to reduce excessive blood flow to the knee. This treatment should resume for the first two days after the injury occurs. After this time one should simply try to use the knee as little as possible for the next 12 days or until the knee feels completely recovered. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Aleve or Motrin can be used to reduce inflammation and aid with pain relief.
A serious strain that results in very intense pain and the inability to move the knee joint should be tended to by a medical professional. It is possible that a ligament has been completely torn and must be treated immediately or one risks the possibility of losing knee functionality to some degree.