Getting an Accurate Knee Sprain Diagnosis

The knee is a complex joint structure and diagnosis can be challenging. A doctor who suspects a knee sprain will want to rule out other possible causes of pain, such as a meniscal tear or tendon injury. The doctor will also keep in mind that the patient may have more than one injury—for example, the patient may have a knee sprain as well as a dislocated kneecap.


Common aspects of a knee sprain diagnosis often include:

Physical examination. A physical exam is an important part of the diagnostic process. The doctor will evaluate all the knee’s ligaments. During this time, the athlete’s ability to relax is important to getting an accurate assessment of the ligaments’ status.

Evaluation of medical history. The doctor will want to know how the knee injury occurred, what symptoms the patient has experienced, and if the patient has sustained previous injuries. The doctor will also ask about the patient's symptoms, such as if certain movements cause pain or weakness, or if certain positions or movements relieve the pain.

Imaging. Medical imaging, such as an X-Ray or MRI, allows visualization of the anatomical structures inside of the knee in order to gauge the severity of the ligament injury. Imaging also helps determine of other structures in the knee have been damaged. For example, a patient may have a knee sprain as well as a broken bone, injured cartilage, and/or a meniscus tear.


An X-ray helps with a diagnosis of a bone fracture, and an MRI enables visualization of soft tissue injuries, such as a tendon or ligament injury.

To avoid additional injury, people are advised to seek a diagnosis and get a doctor’s permission to play before returning to athletics.

A primary care physician, acute care specialist, or a sports medicine physician most commonly diagnose and recommend treatments for knee sprains.