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Medical Therapies for Knee Sprains & Strains

NYU Langone doctors may recommend a variety of medical therapies to help a knee sprain or strain heal. Your doctor may recommend resting the affected area by using a knee brace and modifying your daily activities for a short time. This helps you to avoid added stress on the injured area. Over time, injuries such as mild sprains and strains, may heal on their own. Your doctor may also recommend medications or arthrocentesis to relieve knee pain.

If these therapies do not result in full recovery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, therapeutic injections, or the Tenex procedure.

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation

Doctors recommend a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation—called the RICE regimen—for one or two weeks after diagnosis.

Resting the affected ligaments, tendons, and muscles, gives the knee time to heal. Your doctor may provide a cane or crutches to help you keep weight off the affected knee for about a week. After the swelling starts to subside, most people can walk while wearing a knee brace.

During the first several days after the injury, your doctor may recommend applying ice to your knee 3 times a day for 15 minutes at a time to reduce swelling. Elevating the knee may also help reduce swelling.

Until the inflammation fully subsides, doctors recommend avoiding the activity that caused the injury, as well as other activities that put stress on the knee. Returning to work or sports too soon greatly increases the risk that a knee injury may heal slowly or worsen or that another injury may occur.

Your doctor determines when your knee has healed based on relief of your symptoms and improved function.

Immobilization

Your doctor may advise that you immobilize the knee, or prevent it from moving, for a brief period of time. This allows any swelling and pain to subside and gives your body a chance to heal on its own.

Your doctor may provide you with a brace to wear over your knee to protect and support the joint while it heals. Most braces extend above and below the knee and contain movable parts; the goal is to allow you to walk and slightly bend your knee while wearing it. The brace prevents you from moving the knee from side to side and overextending the joint in any direction.

NYU Langone orthopedic experts often work with orthotics specialists, who custom-fit braces for people with knee injuries. This ensures that you’re comfortable while wearing the device.

After you stop wearing the brace, your doctor may recommend a slow return to physical activity or refer you for physical therapy, which can help you recover.

Pain Relief Medication

NYU Langone doctors typically recommend taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen, as needed throughout recovery. If this does not relieve discomfort, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication for one or two weeks to help you recover comfortably.

Arthrocentesis

If your symptoms include swelling, warmth, or redness, doctors may recommend a procedure called arthrocentesis to remove fluid from the joint. To perform arthrocentesis, a doctor first injects a small amount of local anesthetic to numb the skin and then guides the needle into the joint space, where fluid has accumulated. The doctor removes fluid through the needle, which often helps relieve knee pain.

Our Research and Education in Knee Sprains and Strains

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.