Medical experts know what mechanical forces typically cause knee sprains and what factors can increase the risk of knee sprains.

Common Causes of Knee Sprains

The knee is one of the strongest joints in the body, and it is reinforced by some of the strongest ligaments in the body. However, the ligaments are susceptible to injury as they interconnect the two longest weight-bearing bones in the body.

Most knee sprains occur as a result of:

  • Direct impact on the knee from an outside force
  • Pressure on the knee resulting from an abrupt stopping force or change in direction
  • Over-straightening of the knee joint or hyperextension (less common)

Knee sprains are common in athletes who engage in fast-paced sports, such as soccer, football, basketball, lacrosse or field hockey. For example, a soccer player might sprain a knee by stopping suddenly or changing direction quickly with one foot planted, and a football player might sprain a knee when his or her foot is planted and another player falls into the knee.

See Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain


Risk Factors for Knee Sprains

Any athlete can sustain a knee sprain, but there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a knee sprain occurring. These factors include:

  • Improper footwear. An athlete’s shoes should be suited to the athlete’s biomechanics and appropriate for the sport. Inappropriate footwear can put more pressure on the knee joint and/or put the athlete at risk for accidents.
  • Prior injury. Having previously sprained a knee ligament increases the chance of re-injury.
  • Unexpected exertion. People who ramp up their training or level of athletic competition too quickly may increase their risk of knee sprains.
  • Cutting and contact sports. For example, soccer, football, women’s basketball players have higher risk of knee sprains.

Prevention of knee sprains requires using the right equipment, strengthening the knee joint, and adhering to a training schedule that is well-suited for the athlete’s health and abilities.

Dr. J. Dean Cole is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with more than 30 years of experience treating musculoskeletal issues, including traumatic injuries. He has designed several surgical instruments and implants for minimally invasive orthopedic surgeries and is widely respected for his approach to complex procedures such as deformity correction, bone infection treatment, calcaneal fractures, and nonunions and malunions.