wikiHow to Tell if You Strained Your Knee

Three Parts:Checking Your SymptomsSeeking a Medical DiagnosisTreating a Strained Knee

Strains are quite common, especially among people who are very physically active. A strain is simply a pulled or overstretched muscle. An overstretched muscle is generally caused by overuse of the muscle, improper use of the muscle or damage to the muscle caused by an injury or accident. When you strain your knee you have torn the muscle fibers or injured the tendons by stretching them too far. A strain can begin to hurt immediately after the injury occurs or not for several hours. If you think you may have suffered a knee strain, it is important to know the symptoms and how to test for a strain, what to expect during a diagnosis and treatment needed to heal your strain.

Part 1
Checking Your Symptoms

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    Check for inflammation and pain. Inflammation is actually your body’s effort at early repair of an injury. In order to repair itself, your body tends to swell, become painful, warm or reddened. Check to see if your knee is warm to the touch, enlarged, or red in color by placing your hand on your knee and studying how it looks. Additionally, check for pain and tenderness.[1]
    • Warmth in the affected area is caused by increased blood flow designed to carry body heat from your core to cooler peripheral tissues.[2]
    • Inflammation is caused by your body's reaction to tissue damage and results in increased movement of white blood cells.[3]
    • Redness is caused by increased blood flow to an injury.[4]
    • Sometimes the affected area is not red, but rather discolored or bruised from improper twisting or stress due to hyperflexion or hyperextension.[5]
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    Look for stiffness or decreased range of movement. After a knee injury it is common for the damaged area to be stiff and to experience a decrease in your range of motion. Stand on your uninjured leg and gently lift your damaged leg to see if your knee feels especially weak or unstable. Your knee may feel particularly limp or you may experience shakiness in the affected area.[6]
    • The tendons or tissues connected to your muscle are affected, causing you to feel stiff or weak.[7]
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    Check for numbness or muscle spasms. Sometimes an injury can cause the area to feel numb or cause sudden and sporadic muscle spasms. Be sure to check if your knee or the surrounding area feels tingly due to the trauma it suffered during your injury.
    • The numbness is caused by brief loss of sensory or motor function triggered by an accident that damaged muscle tissues.
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    Listen for noises and look for flexibility. Cautiously move your leg around and notice any unusual noises such as grinding or popping coming from your knee. These types of noises can be a sign that you have torn something. When you check to see if you hear anything usual, determine if you are able to fully straighten your leg. Being unable to completely flex or extend your leg and knee is a sure sign of a strain.[8]
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    Determine if you can bear weight on your knee. Your muscles and tendons are not as strong as they were before you were injured. Stand for a while on your leg with the damaged knee to see if you are able to, or if your leg buckles under the pressure. Another test is to walk or climb stairs to determine if you are able to move with ease. If your muscles, tendons or ligaments are damaged, doing so will be painful and difficult. [9]

Part 2
Seeking a Medical Diagnosis

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    Disclose relevant medical information. During your appointment you want to be sure to share with your doctor any past joint problems, complications with past surgeries, trouble with inflammation or injuries and your level of physical activity.
    • Recall recent falls, walking or running on uneven ground, twisting or turning of your ankle or leg, trips, or sudden impact to your knee.
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    Check your knee ligaments. Your doctor can perform several tests to check your knee ligaments. It is important to see how your ligaments are functioning, as they are what stabilize your knee. Your physician may check the following: collateral ligaments, posterior cruciate ligament, and anterior cruciate ligament.
    • The valgus and varus tests check your medial and lateral collateral ligaments.
    • The posterior drawer test check your posterior cruciate ligament.
    • The Lachman, anterior drawer, and pivot shift tests check your anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.
    • If your doctor believes that you are having problems with your menisci based on results from the knee ligament tests, she may perform a McMurray test.
    • If undergoing regular physical exams like the ones above cause you too much pain, your doctor might order arthrometric testing to measure the looseness of your knee. This is, however, very rare.
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    Undergo further testing if your doctor suspects a more serious injury. Your doctor may want to perform a physical examination of the affected area to determine your degree of pain, amount of swelling, stability within your joints, and degree of mobility. At that point, he can recommend additional testing such as x-rays, MRIs, or an ultrasonography. These types of tests will provide a closer look into what may be going on with your knee.
    • These types of tests should be done only when tests to check your knee ligaments don’t determine the problem.
    • An x-ray can check for fractures.
    • MRIs will allow the doctor to view your knee’s internal structure to check for swelling and damage to your soft tissues.[10]
    • An ultrasonography can be used to produce images of tissues in your knee and is also a form of therapy.[11]

Part 3
Treating a Strained Knee

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    Decrease pain, swelling, and fever with medication. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, are common pain relievers that you can take to reduce pain, swelling or fever associated with your knee strain. Be sure to check with your doctor prior to taking any medications, as they can cause kidney problems or bleeding. If these over-the-counter medications do not work, prescription medications can be used.[12]
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    Limit your movement to protect your joints. Use support devices such as a splint, cast, brace, bandages or crutches to reduce your movement while your knee heals. These devices will also help to reduce pain because your knee will be constrained.
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    Receive physical therapy to help treat your sprain. Depending on the severity of your sprain, your healthcare provider might recommend physical therapy. By getting physical therapy you will learn exercises to reduce your pain as well as improve your strength and range of movement.
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    Elevate and rest your knee. To help manage your pain you should elevate and rest your knee. Make sure you raise your knee above your heart in order to reduce the amount of blood flow delivered to the area. Keep weight off your knee and avoid any physical activity as well. By resting your knee, you will speed up your recovery and reduce any swelling. While resting, your doctor might recommend some mild exercises to prevent stiffness.
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    Apply ice and compression to your knee. To lessen the pain and swelling, apply ice and steady compression to your knee. Use an ice pack or crushed ice in a bag and apply it for no more than 20 minutes at a time. You can repeat this every hour. Applying ice will also prevent further damage to your tissues. Applying compression using bandages can also reduce swelling and pain.


  • Besides athletes, people who engage in strength training are also at risk of a knee strain. Poor body mechanics and muscle-tendon imbalance during exercise may result in a muscle tear. Other factors like physical bone structure and growth can likewise contribute to muscle strains.
  • It should be noted that prolonged immobilization must be avoided because it may result in your knee being permanently stiff.

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Categories: Injury and Accidents