Robert E. Leach, MD
A sprain is an injury that damages a ligament. A ligament is a firm, fibrous band of tissue. It connects two bones across a joint. There are ligaments crossing all of the joints in the body.
Grade 1 and 2 sprains are less severe. The internal structure of the ligament is damaged, but the ligament remains intact. Grade 3 sprains are more severe. They include complete tears of the ligament. Grade 3 sprains are sometimes called torn or ruptured ligaments.
A sprain occurs when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is intense enough, the ligament holding the joint together has to give.
Sprains can occur with everyday activities, but they are more common during sports.
Sports with high speeds and risk of collision have an increased risk of sprains. These sports include:
Factors that may increase your risk of a sprain include:
Symptoms of a sprain may include:
The most common joints involved include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor may need images of your joint. This will help check for damage to bones or other structures. Images may be taken with:
Treatment will depend on the joint involved and the extent of the injury. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Avoid activity that causes pain. Protect the joint when possible.
Elevation will help decrease swelling.
Compression of the area with an elastic bandage also helps to control swelling. Do not pull the elastic bandage tight. Release the bandage if fingers or toes become numb.
Apply ice to the area for 15-20 minutes at a time. This may be required several times a day for the first few days. Do not apply heat until you are ready to start being more active. Check with your doctor before applying heat. It may increase swelling.
Place a towel between a heat or ice pack and your skin.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to manage pain and swelling. Medication may include:
Rehabilitation exercises may be helpful after the sprain heals. Exercises can help to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion. Medical help is often needed at this stage. It is important to strengthen the muscles involving the joint where the ligament is. Those muscles need protection against further injury.
It may be difficult to avoid sprains. Joints are at risk during athletic activities. To reduce your chance of getting a sprain:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American College of Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00150. Updated September 2012. Accessed September 6, 2013.
Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/sprains-strains-and-tears.pdf. Accessed September 6, 2013.
Sprains, strains, and other soft tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at:
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00304. Updated July 2007. Accessed September 6, 2013.
10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Massey T, Derry S, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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