Knee Ligament Injury Recovery Time

Knee Ligament Injury Recovery Time

Knee ligament injuries are common among athletes that participate in high impact sports. The most common is the ACL tear. These injuries require immediate attention to assess severity and determine the most appropriate course of treatment. Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the injury.

The knee joint joins the thigh with the leg. The knee consists of two joints; one between the femur and tibia and one between the femur and patella. The largest joint in the human body is a modified hinge joint. The joint allows for flexion, extension, and slight internal/external rotation. The knee is susceptible to injury and osteoarthritis.

Sprains and torn ligaments are common injuries. Recovery time depends on the severity and treatment needed and may take from a few weeks to six months for healing to occur.

Small tears like sprains, tiny fibers of the ligament can tear but, generally heal in a few days to weeks. However, the severity of the tear can dramatically impact recovery time. The RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is used often.


Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones in the body. There are four ligaments in the knee. These ligaments are susceptible to injury and include:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – connects thigh bone to shin bone
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) – connects thigh bone to shin bone in the knee
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) – connects thigh bone to fibula at outer side
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) – inside of the knee

The ACL is the ligament most commonly injured while the PCL is the least likely to be injured except in an auto accident. The MCL injuries are generally caused by a severe blow or a fall. These injuries need immediate medical attention. Surgery may be needed to knee the knee stable.

Symptoms of a knee ligament injury are:

  • sudden severe pain
  • loud pop or snap during injury
  • swelling for 24 hours after injury
  • feeling looseness in joint
  • inability to bear weight or any weight-bearing

A physicians exam is needed for definitive diagnosis. Draining of fluid may be needed if pain is intense and the knee is severely swollen. An x-ray and MRI may be done to rule out a broken bone and check ligament injury (ies).

Treatment focuses on reducing swelling and stabilizing the knee joint to prevent additional damage. Recommendations are as followed:

  • Ice compresses every 20-30 minutes for 3-4 hours for 2-3 days
  • Compression bandage, straps or sleeve to control swelling
  • elevate knee on pillow when sitting or lying down
  • Wear a knee brace
  • Anti-inflammatories like aspirin or ibuprofen
  • practice stretching and strengthening exercises if recommended. The physician may order physical therapy.

Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. People heal at different rates. Certain injuries may require surgery such when ligament tears or stretches beyond its limit like the ACL or PCL. Ligament reconstruction is a complicated surgery which may be needed when there is severe pain or severe instability. In other cases, a knee brace may serve the purpose. Physical therapy can help limit problems and speed up recovery.

Knee ligament injuries are difficult to prevent. Implementing precautions may make injury less likely to occur. Preventive measures are as follows:

  • maintain thigh muscle strength with stretching and strengthening exercises
  • warm up with light activities before doing tougher activities
  • maintain flexibility
  • make changes slowly

Ligaments heal on their own if given enough time. Caution should be maintained to prevent re-injury. When surgery is needed, expect several weeks to months of healing time. Some torn ligament injuries can be severe enough that full recovery of mobility and strength is limited. Knee replacement surgeries can take up to a year healing time.

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