A sprain is an injury resulting from a stretch or tear in a ligament or muscle fibre. Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissues that connect the bones and bind the joints together. Sprains typically occur in the lower limbs, particularly the ankles. A strain is a mild sprain where there is no tear or rupture involved.
Ligament injuries can occur in a variety of ways:
- Direct trauma
- Fatigue due to repetitive movement
- Flexing, extending or twisting a joint beyond its range
- Awkward or sudden movement (ex: sudden change of direction)
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a sprain include:
- Pain or tenderness around the joint
- Bruising and possible discoloration
- Inability or difficulty moving the affected part
There are four steps to caring for a person who has a sprain:
- Rest: Depending on the severity of the sprain, partial or total rest of the affected joint is recommended.
- Support: The injured joint should be adequately supported without changing its position. Support includes splints, slings and bandages which should be kept on for 24 to 48 hours. Depending on the severity of the injury, support may be required for a few weeks. This is the most effective way to reduce swelling and bruising.
- Elevation: Keep the injured limb elevated above the heart for 2 to 3 hours a day, if possible. This will help decrease swelling and reduce bruising.
- Treatment: For the first 72 hours, apply ice (wrapped in a towel) for 10 to 15 minutes every hour. Ice will help alleviate pain and reduce swelling and bruising. A pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Advil®) will also help relieve pain. If there is no change after 48 to 72 hours, see a doctor.
To prevent these types of injuries from occurring, it is important to wear the proper gear when participating in certain activities and sports (ex: proper footwear and clothing). It is also strongly recommended that you warm up before exercising, remain hydrated during the activity and stretch afterwards.