What is a sprain?
A sprain is a tear in or painful stretch of one of your ligaments. Ligaments are short, tough bands of tissue that hold your bones together at a joint.
A sprain is mild, moderate, or severe based on whether your ligament is stretched, partly torn, or fully torn. A torn muscle or tendon isn't considered a sprain.
Cause pain and swelling
Don't show up on x-rays, but doctors may do x-rays to look for a nearby broken bone
Are treated by Protecting the area, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation ("PRICE")
Sometimes require a splint or cast
Usually heal on their own
May require surgery if the ligament is completely torn
What causes sprains?
You get a sprain if a joint is twisted, stretched, or bent too far, such as from:
A sports injury
Each joint has several ligaments. Sometimes more than one is sprained.
If a ligament is completely torn, the bones in the joint may separate. This is called a dislocation Overview of Dislocations A dislocation is complete separation of the bones that form a joint. In subluxation, the bones in a joint are partly out of position. Often, a dislocated joint remains dislocated until it is... read more . Even without a dislocation, the joint may be wobbly. This is called an unstable joint.
What are the symptoms of sprains?
The most common symptoms are:
Pain—it hurts to touch, put weight on the body part, or use it
Trouble using the injured part normally
The torn ligament can bleed under your skin. You may have a bruise after a day or so.
How can doctors tell if I have a sprain?
Doctors examine your injured joint and the areas near it. They may gently move the joint to see if it's working correctly and how badly it's hurt.
If doctors suspect a bone is broken or out of place, they’ll do an:
Because sprains don't show up on x-rays, doctors don't always do x-rays. If doctors need to see how badly a ligament is injured, they may do an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more (magnetic resonance imaging).
How do doctors treat sprains?
In the first 24 hours after a sprain, doctors have you do a treatment called PRICE, which stands for:
Protect the injury with a compression bandage or splint
Rest your injured body part by limiting activity or not putting weight on it (for example, by using crutches)
Ice the injured area with an ice pack wrapped in a towel
Compress (wrap) the area with an elastic bandage to limit swelling
Elevate the injured body part as high as your heart, or higher, to reduce swelling
To lessen pain, doctors will tell you to:
Take acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen
Apply ice every few hours for 15 or 20 minutes at a time
After 2 days, use a heating pad for 15 to 20 minutes at a time
Talk to your doctor about when you can start moving the body part:
If you have a mild sprain, doctors may tell you to start moving the sprained body part as soon as you can
If you have a moderate sprain, you may need a splint or sling for a few days
A severe sprain may need a cast or surgery
After a severe sprain, you may need to do rehab exercises Overview of Rehabilitation Rehabilitation services are needed by people who have lost the ability to function normally, often because of an injury, a stroke, an infection, a tumor, surgery, or a progressive disorder ... read more . The exercises help strengthen the muscles around your joint and make it less stiff.
What are the complications of sprains?
Your joint may be stiff, especially if you had to wear a splint or cast
Your joint may be more likely to have another sprain even after this one heals
The joint may not be stable
The longer you wear a splint or cast, the stiffer your joint will be and the weaker your muscles. Then it will be harder for you to get your strength and flexibility back. Your joint may always be a little stiff and more likely to sprain if you hurt it again.