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How to Tell if Knee is Broken or Sprained: Signs & Symptoms


Got a knee injury? Rest assured, you’re in good hands.

Knee injuries are among the most common musculoskeletal injuries out there, with a wide range of symptoms and causes. 

Knowing this should be a comfort.

It means knee injuries are among the most commonly treated injuries with good recovery potential. 

In reality, many people injure their knees through sports, accidents, or mundane, everyday activities that don’t go quite as expected.

But knowing how to tell if your knee is fractured or sprained is vital to getting the correct treatment and getting back on your feet as quickly as possible. 

How To Tell If Knee Is Broken Or Sprained

In this blog post, we’ll examine the many types of knee injuries, from an ACL tear to ankle injuries, a mild sprain, to a patella fracture, explicitly focusing on telling which injury it is

From knee symptoms to diagnostic methods, treatment options available, and ways to prevent knee injuries from happening in the first place. It’s all in this post. 

Armed with this knowledge, you can be sure that any knee injury is correctly identified and treated, allowing you to return to your daily activities quickly and safely.

Types Of Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are common for so many people, but how do you tell what’s happening inside your knee? 

A broken bone is one type of knee injury. 

A sprain is another. 

And what about stress fractures? How do they feel?

In truth, many knee injuries are caused by direct trauma, such as a car accident, a fall, or a twist to the knee during a sports session.  

Sprains and strains occur when ligaments become overstretched or torn due to running or jumping. 

Tendon injuries can also happen, including tears in either the quadriceps or patellar tendon.

Knee joint dislocations are possible if a sudden impact or force hits the knee.

Meniscal tears happen when the cartilage in the knee joint is torn due to a severe twisting motion. Knee ligament injuries are equally common as cartilage issues. You can read more about ACL ligament tears here in this post.

Inside Of The Knee

Here’s a simplified breakdown of what to look for in a knee injury, common knee problems, or some undiagnosed knee pain.

It’s worth noting that everybody is different, and people’s pain thresholds do vary. 

advise you to always check with a medical professional if you’re unsure. 

These are the most commonly seen symptoms in each knee injury category:

  • Broken bones/simple fractures cause severe pain in the knee, as well as swelling and bruising around it, which will become more visible over time. The leg can look deformed, depending on the severity of the injury. 
  • A severe sprain and strain cause somewhat milder pain, swelling, and tenderness in the knee area. However, they can still be very painful. 
  • Tendon wounds result in sharp pain near the front of your thigh when walking or bending your knee in particular.
  • Knee dislocations cause intense pain accompanied by a visible deformity in the leg. This is the same for patella dislocations. The leg is often immobile. 
  • Meniscal tears and tears of the major ligaments often have similar symptoms to sprains but with greater pain intensity and additional locking sensations inside the knee when attempting to move it.

Diagnosing Injured Structures

Although it’s helpful to know what you might have done to your knee, almost every knee injury is worthy of medical care with a trip to the emergency room.  

Your healthcare provider will start by asking questions about how you injured your knee, the mechanism of injury, and any other health concerns that may impact healing time and treatment options. 

A physical exam should be performed to check for tenderness, muscle strength, range of motion, joint deformity, walking stability, and warmth, swelling, or deformity around the knee. 

Depending on the severity of the injury, imaging tests like X-rays or a CT scan may be requested to examine fractures or for possible dislocation.

At the same time, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides detailed images of torn ligaments/soft tissues inside of your knee. 

Treatment Plan For Knee Injuries

There are two categories of treatment options when it comes to the most common knee injuries:

These are:

  • Conservative management
  • Surgical management

The RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation—is typically recommended for minor sprains, strains, and knee ligaments.

It’s an easy way to remember what works well for various injuries that don’t require surgery. 

Resting the injured limb for a few days helps reduce pain and swelling while applying an ice pack or cold compress frequently reduces swelling further. 

Compressing the area with an elastic bandage can help relieve swelling and give additional comfort to the joint while it recovers. 

Finally, elevating the injured knee above the heart level reduces fluid accumulation in the lower leg. 

Therapy Options

Physical therapy is frequently used to restore mobility and strength in the knee, depending on the type of injury. 

A physical therapist will work with you to develop exercises that target specific muscles around your knee joint, ensuring as complete a range of motion as possible returns to you, enabling normal activities to resume. 

Therapists can also recommend certain braces or splints to provide extra stability during recovery.

In cases where surgery is needed, such as with ligament tears or bony fractures, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee surgeries will be the person to help you, followed by a physical therapist. 

Surgery usually involves making small incisions near the affected area to repair torn ligaments or tendons or realign broken bones. 

In some cases, a total replacement of one or more joints may be necessary, or some sort of metal work, such as screws and plates, may be used to hold the broken bone in place.

Preventing knee injuries

Wouldn’t we all love to prevent injuries? But the fact is, accidents happen, and life goes on. 

Saying that, there are several ways to reduce the risk of a knee injury if you’re a sportsperson or someone who undertakes exercises with the legs – this may make you more likely to sustain a knee injury of sorts. 

Consider things like wearing protective gear, engaging in regular stretching and strength training, using proper form when exercising or playing sports, and avoiding activities that put too much stress on the knee joint. 

Lastly, take care of your weight and stay as healthy as possible. 

To Finish

I hope you find this post informative and valuable for your needs. 

My final recommendation, as someone who has sustained bilateral knee injuries in the past, is to get seen by a medical doctor if you’re at all unsure of your injury.

They will be able to help you and ensure you make a full recovery as quickly as possible. 

These posts are what I suggest you read next:

Pain in thigh when bending the knee

What does a healthy knee look like?