A sprain is a common injury, particularly in the ankle. It can often be treated effectively at home with conservative treatments, such as rest and elevation. However, if you experience severe symptoms, you should seek prompt medical care to determine the best treatment for your injury.
A sprain occurs when the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect the bones together in a joint, known as ligaments, become stretched or torn. They can involve any of the ligaments, but sprains most often affect the ankle, knee, and wrist. Situations that may cause a sprain could include rolling your ankle, a sudden twist of the knee, falling on an outstretched hand, or receiving a direct blow. A sprain is sometimes confused with a strain, but they are different types of injuries, with a strain affecting muscles and/or tendons.
When you have a sprain, it directly affects the joint involved, and sometimes, more than one ligament is injured. Signs of a sprain can vary depending on the location and severity of the sprain, but symptoms can include:
- Swelling and inflammation
- Joint instability, particularly if the ankle or knee is affected
- Reduced range of motion or inability to move the affected joint
- A popping sensation in the joint at the time of injury
Caring for a Sprain
Often, mild sprains can be treated successfully at home. For the first couple of days, it is important to care for your injury by following 4 steps, known as the RICE method. This helps to reduce swelling, support the injury, and prevent further damage:
- Rest your injury and avoid any exercise or activities. If you have sprained you knee or ankle, try not to put weight on the injury.
- Ice–Apply cold packs to the injured area for up to 20 minutes at a time, repeating every 2-3 hours.
- Compression–Wrap the injury, preferably with an elastic bandage.
- Elevate the injury as much as possible, and try to keep it above heart level.
You should avoid drinking alcohol and massage or applying heat to the injury (including hot baths) to prevent swelling from becoming worse. If you experience pain, over-the-counter pain medications can help, but some medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may not be recommended,as these can increase your risk of bleeding.
When you no longer experience pain, you should try to keep the injured area from moving to prevent stiffness in the joint. In most cases, a sprain will feel better within 2-4 weeks. You should, however, continue to avoid strenuous activities such as running and sports for up to 8 weeks, as returning to such activities too soon increases your risk of further damage.
Sometimes, other injuries such as a fracture can share similar symptoms to a severe sprain, so it essential to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and to establish the best treatment for your injury. Visit your doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation if your symptoms continue to get worse despite self-care, or if you:
- Experience numbness in any part of the injured area
- Are unable to move or weight bear on the affected joint
- Are experiencing significant pain or pain directly over the bones of the injured area
Diagnosis and Treatment for Sprains
A doctor can diagnose a sprain by carrying out a physical examination. They will assess range of motion, obvious defects, level of swelling, and the stability of the affected joint. In some cases, imaging tests, such as X-ray, ultrasound,or MRI,may also be recommended to check for other types of injuries, such as a fracture,and to help diagnose the extent of the sprain.
To assess the severity of the injury, sprains are graded. This helps to determine the right course of treatment for the injury:
- Grade one sprain–A mild sprain,which means there is slight stretching and some damage to the ligament fibers. May cause minor pain and discomfort when doing certain activities.
- Grade two sprain–A moderate sprain with partial tearing of the ligament. There may be pain, bruising, and swelling,some instability, and abnormal laxity when the joint is moved in certain ways,making carrying on with normal activities difficult.
- Grade three sprain–A complete tear of the ligament. The injury can cause significant instability in the joint, and there may be a popping sensation when the injury occurs. There is usually significant pain, bruising, and swelling.
Your doctor will develop a customized treatment plan based on the degree, severity,and location of your sprain. In some cases, physical therapy may be recommended, depending on the joint involved and the degree of the sprain. Physical therapy can help improve stability, mobility, and strength in the affected joint, as well as prevent future injuries. For a significant sprain, wearing a brace or splint may be recommended to support and immobilize the sprained joint, prevent further damage, and encourage healing.
Will I Need Surgery?
Usually, conservative treatments are all that is required to treat a sprain, but in some instances,depending on the joint involved and the severity of the sprain, surgery may be necessary to repair severely damaged or torn ligamentsand to restore function and mobility.
The type of surgery required will depend on the location and severity of the sprain. Sometimes, a torn or damaged ligament can be repaired using minimally invasive surgery, which involves much smaller incisions than traditional surgery and is associated with a faster recovery and a lower risk of surgical complications. Your surgeon will work with you to evaluate your injury and take into account things such as your age, lifestyle, activity level, and the risk factors associated with surgery to help determine whether surgery is the best treatment option for your injury.
Sprain Treatment NearMe in Hartford County, CT and Springfield, MA
If you are looking for effective treatment for a sprain or other musculoskeletal injury, contact the orthopedic experts at Advanced Orthopedics New England. Our board-certified physicians offer a comprehensive range of nonsurgical and surgical specialties and services to restore function and mobility, and provide patients with effective pain reliefcaused by a musculoskeletal injury or disorder.