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Knee Sprain in Children: Care Instructions

Picture of the anatomy of the knee


A knee sprain is one or more stretched, partly torn, or completely torn knee ligaments. Ligaments are bands of rope-like tissue that connect bone to bone and make the knee stable. The knee has four main ligaments.

Knee sprains often happen because of a twisting or bending injury from sports such as skiing, basketball, soccer, or ice hockey. The knee turns one way while the lower or upper leg goes another way. A sprain also can happen when the knee is hit from the side or the front.

If a knee ligament is slightly stretched, your child will probably need only home treatment. Your child may need a splint or brace (immobilizer) for a partly torn ligament. A complete tear may need surgery. A minor knee sprain may take up to 6 weeks to heal, while a severe sprain may take months.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Make sure your child follows instructions about how much weight can be put on the leg and how to walk with crutches.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your child's knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • Prop up your child's leg on a pillow when icing it or anytime your child sits or lies down for the next 3 days. Try to keep your child's knee above the level of their heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Have your child follow your doctor's directions for wearing an elastic bandage or a splint. Wrapping the knee may help reduce or prevent swelling.
  • If the doctor recommends it, have your child wear a brace (immobilizer) to support the knee while it heals. Make sure your child wears it as directed.
  • Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain and swelling. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has increased or severe pain.
  • Your child cannot move the toes or ankle.
  • Your child's foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in the foot or leg.
  • Your child's splint or brace feels too tight.
  • Your child is unable to straighten the knee, or the knee "locks."
  • Your child has redness, swelling, or tenderness on or behind the knee.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's pain is not getting better or is getting worse.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.