Massaging a Sprained Knee: 5 Dos and 5 Don'ts
In the US alone, about half of all US adults live with a musculoskeletal condition at any given time. Sprains, including overstretched or torn knee ligaments, are among the most common. Now that you have such an injury yourself, you may be wondering if massaging a sprained knee can help.
Yes, it can, as massage has shown to help ease pain in people with musculoskeletal disorders. However, you may have to wait for about two to three days to massage your knee. Proper timing and techniques are key to maximizing the beneficial effects of massages.
What Are the Benefits of Massaging a Sprained Knee?
Massage can help ease knee sprain pain by increasing blood flow and temperature. The increased circulation can then bring more nutrients to the injured knee ligament. In theory, the more nourished the injured ligament, the faster it can recover.
Should You Massage a Sprained Knee?
Yes, so long as your doctor gives you the green light. It’s also best to consult a licensed physical therapist for your massage therapy. This way, you can be sure that you'll get the right type of massage that works best on sprained knees.
Do note that there are at least seven main types of massage (excluding self-massage). Some target muscles, including deep tissue massage. Others, like myofascial release, focus on the fascia, a group of connective tissues.
Your doctor and PT can determine what type of massage is best for your injured knee.
The 5 Dos of Massaging a Sprained Knee
Massage can be helpful for sprained knees, but only if done after the initial swelling is gone. In minor knee sprains, such as Grade 1 sprains, the inflammation can last for one to three days. In this case, you can give your knee a gentle massage as soon as the tenderness is gone.
More severe knee sprains, known as Grades 3 sprains, can swell a lot longer. In such cases, the inflammation comes with intense pain that doesn't improve after a few days. It's best to hold off on massaging your knee as you should have this checked by a doctor first.
So, one of the first “dos” of massaging a sprained knee is to use it only when your knee is no longer swollen. Aside from this, here are other crucial dos to keep in mind.
1. Know the Difference Between Knee Sprains and Strains
Over four in 10 of all emergency department injuries are knee sprains and strains. Sprains and strains have similar symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and limited mobility. Both also follow the initial treatment called RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
However, sprains are ligament injuries, while strains are muscle or tendon injuries. Because of this, more severe knee sprains can render you unable to use the affected joint. By contrast, a strained knee can also come with highly unpleasant spasms and cramps.
Moreover, some types of sprains are more common than strains, such as knee sprains. A perfect example is a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Every year, 100,000 to 200,000 cases of ACL ruptures occur in the US alone. The ACL is one of the primary stabilizing ligaments found in the knee. Its role and placement (middle of the knee) make it highly susceptible to injuries.
That's why you want to be sure whether you have a knee sprain or a strain. Your treatment would depend on the severity of the injury and symptoms. Severe sprains and strains may also require specific massaging, rehabilitative, or surgical treatment.
2. Get Your Doctor's Approval First
It can be hard to tell whether you have a knee sprain or strain during the first few hours following your injury. That's why you should get in touch with your doctor right after your accident. This way, your doctor can run physical and imaging tests to determine the exact nature of your injury.
Your doctor may ask you to perform a few movements with your injured knee, so long as you can tolerate the pain. Your physician may then ask you to rate the pain in your bent knee, such as on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most painful. Be sure to describe any other sensation you feel, such as spasms, cramps, tingling, or sharp pain.
After the tests, your healthcare provider will create a comprehensive treatment plan. At this point, you should ask whether you can massage your knee and when exactly you can do so. Your doctor will likely refer you to a physical therapist.
Be sure to get in touch with the PT, as they will supervise your massage and rehabilitation program.
If you're in severe pain, your doctor will likely give you medications to help relieve it. Your physician will also remind you not to bear weight on the affected knee. You may also have to use an assistive device, such as a crutch or a cane, to help you stand and walk.
You can also expect your physician to have you do the RICE protocol at home. Moreover, your doctor may prescribe a knee brace to help with your recovery.
3. RICE before Massage
Resting your sprained knee is your top priority immediately following your injury. You need to let it rest for the first 24 hours, which means not putting weight on it as much as possible.
You should also ice your sprained knee for only 10 minutes at a time. Then, give it a 10-minute break from the cold treatment before reapplying ice. Your doctor will likely recommend using ice therapy for the first 24 to 72 hours.
When you aren't icing your knee, wrap it with a compression garment. You can use a multi-purpose ice compression wrap for this; just remove the ice bag and use only the sleeve. What's important is to compress the injured area, as this can help reduce swelling.
Whenever you're resting your sprained knee, position it in a way that it sits higher than your heart. This is the practice known as "elevation," and it can also help decrease inflammation. The best way to achieve this is to lie down and then prop your leg up on a few stacked pillows.
4. Use the Massage Techniques Recommended by Your Doc
If you only have a minor knee sprain, your doctor may allow you to perform self-massage at home. Knee friction is a common method in which you apply compression to the injury using four fingers. Use your fingers to compress a small area of your knee and then move it up and down using gentle, short strokes.
This is only one example, so your doctor may prescribe a different massage technique. What's important is to follow your physician's directions. Applying the wrong method can do more harm than good on your already-injured knee.
5. Always Consider Massage as a Complementary Treatment
Massage for knee sprains works best when combined with other rehabilitative exercises. That's why it's important to seek your doctor's advice, as massage alone won't help you heal your injury.
For instance, aside from massage, your doctor may also recommend aquatic therapy. According to studies, water treatment is ideal for ACL injury recuperation. Low impact exercises, such as stationary biking, can also help boost your recovery.
The use of heat in conjunction with massage can also help during the sub-acute stage of a sprain. For example, you can use a heated vibration knee massager at home once your knee is no longer tender. With this device, you can get your blood flowing better, which can help boost circulation to your knee.
The 5 Don'ts of Knee Sprain Massage
Increased risk of swelling is one of the top reasons you should never massage a knee right after you sprain it. Incorrect methods can also raise your risks of internal bleeding.
To help you avoid more injuries, let's explore the don'ts of massaging a sprained knee.
1. Don't Massage Your Sprained Knee Right Away
Even if you don’t think you’ve torn one of your knee ligaments, avoid touching your knee right after you injure it. If you massage it immediately, you run the risk of increasing the blood flow to the injured site. This, in turn, heightens your risk of edema or hemorrhage.
Edema is a type of inflammation that results from a build-up of fluid in tissues. Keep in mind that massage, as revealed by studies, can increase blood flow. So, if you massage your knee right after you injure it, edema can develop due to the increased circulation.
Hemorrhage, in turn, refers to blood loss, which can also occur internally. In this case, internal bleeding can occur in the affected joint. If you massage your sprained knee, it can trigger more blood to escape from the damaged blood vessels.
2. Don't Rub or Press Too Hard
If your doctor indicates a self-massage at home, be sure to use gentle strokes and rubbing motions. You may have gotten used to "hard" body massage, but if you apply the same to a sprain, you may do more harm than good. For starters, too much force can cause the damaged tissues and vessels to "reopen" and bleed again.
If this happens, you can expect your knee sprain recovery to take much longer. Moreover, re-injuring your knee can put you at risk of chronic pain and instability.
3. Don’t "Over-Massage" Knee Sprains
When you injure your knee, one of your primary goals is to keep it as stable as possible during recovery. By immobilizing the overstretched or torn ligament, it can begin to patch itself up. Bracing your injured knee helps prevent excess movement that can re-injure it.
If you keep massaging your sprained knee, all those rubbing and gliding movements can add up. These can then hinder your body's ability to heal and recover. So, even if the massage feels good, don't overdo it.
4. Don't Rely on Massage Alone
Massage is only one part of a comprehensive sprained knee treatment. As mentioned above, it's more of a complementary therapeutic modality. As such, even if it does help ease pain, you shouldn't rely on it alone.
This doesn't mean that you should keep taking medications like pain-relievers. It's best that you use these meds only if the pain is too much to bear. You can use a stabilizing knee brace to help you manage the pain caused by your knee sprain.
You should also avoid skipping or delaying appointments with your physical therapist. Your PT is a key player in your recovery, as they can determine if your sprain is healing right or if it's taking longer. They may then adjust your therapy and level of activity based on your latest check-up.
5. Don't Massage and Drive
Massage can provide quick relief for knee sprain pain, so you may feel better right after one. However, you should avoid putting too much weight or burden on it while it's still recovering. That means staying away from activities like driving, as this means bending your knee.
Aside from driving, avoid other activities that involve significant flexion, such as squatting. This is especially true during the first few days after your sprain injury.
Note that you need to start moving your knee as soon as possible, as this can help prevent stiffness. However, you should take it slow, starting only with slight and gradual movements. As always, stick to your doctor's prescribed activities.
Massaging a Sprained Knee Can Be Helpful if Done Right
As you can see, massaging a sprained knee does have benefits, but you need to time it right and use the right method. Otherwise, it can cause more problems, which may lead to longer healing times. That's why it's advisable to see your doctor and PT before you go in for a knee massage.
Has your doctor given you the go signal to use massagers or knee supportive devices? If so, then know that PowerRebound is a great source for such products! Please feel free to check out our collection of knee braces and compression sleeves.