Sprains

What is a sprain?

A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect bones together throughout your joints. Sprains often occur in ankles, knees, wrists, fingers and back. Mild sprains can be treated at home. Severe sprains may require treatment from a physician or surgery to repair torn ligaments. 

Our bodies are constantly stressed by physical activity, so an occasional sprain is not uncommon. Certain situations put you at higher risk of injury. 

These include:

  • Athletic activity or exercise
  • Accidents, such as falling or slipping
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Overexerting yourself
  • Sitting or standing in an awkward position
  • Prolonged repetitive motion


What are the symptoms of a sprain?

Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the sprain.

These may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited movement in the affected joint
  • Hearing or feeling a "pop" in your joint at the time of injury

The situations that cause sprains also can cause other serious injuries, such as fractures. Seek treatment from a physician if you:

  • Cannot move or bear weight on the affected joint
  • Have pain directly over the bones of an injured joint
  • Have numbness in any part of the injured area
  • Notice the affected area becoming blue or cold
  • Are not healing or progressing with your recovery, or have worsening symptoms


How are sprains prevented?

Reduce your risk of sprains by strengthening and conditioning the muscles around your joints. Regular stretching along with stability and strengthening exercises are part of an overall physical conditioning program. This can help prevent sprains and other injuries if you have a physically demanding job. Playing a sport can also help you be in better shape. 

Keep these factors in mind to reduce the risk of sprains:

  • Fatigue – Tired muscles are less likely to support your joints.
  • Footwear – Ill-fitting footwear does not offer proper ankle support or protection.
  • Sports equipment – Poorly maintained sporting gear can contribute to a sprain.
  • Environment – Uneven surfaces and slippery conditions make you more prone to injury.
  • Repetition – Constant and repeated movements increase your susceptibility to injury. 


How are sprains treated? 

Mild sprains are often treated with a technique known as RICE. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

  • Rest - Stay off the affected joint and try not to use it while it heals.
  • Ice - Ice should be applied immediately as it helps reduce swelling and inflammation of the affected joint. Do not apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap a thin towel or piece of cloth around a bag of ice. Leave it on the affected area for 20 minutes, then remove the ice. Repeat every 2-3 hours for the first 24 to 72 hours.
  • Compression - Compression helps reduce the swelling. Wrap the affected joint in a compression or elastic bandage, such as an ACE bandage. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly or you may reduce blood flow to the area. Remove the bandage and rewrap it several times a day; be sure to leave it off when you go to bed at night.
  • Elevation - Try to keep the affected joint elevated above the level of your heart. This helps reduce swelling. If your knee or ankle is affected, you may need to stay in bed or on the couch for up to two days after your injury until the swelling goes down.


Severe sprains may require surgery to repair damaged or torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles. Contact a physician about a sprain if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty walking or standing without pain
  • Inability to move or flex the affected joint
  • Numbness or tingling around the joint


You can come into any Patient First center from 8 a.m. to 8 pm, any day of the week – no appointment is needed.