A sprain (from the French espraindre - to wring) is an injury which occurs to ligaments caused by a sudden overtearing (for the muscle injury, see strain). Ligaments are usually only stretched, but if it's completely torn, a longer period of immobilization and surgical repair may be necessary.
Although some signs
can be used to assess the severity of a sprain, the most definitive method is with the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
(MRI). Sprains are graded in four degrees.
- The first degree is only a minor tear or stretch of a ligament.
- The second degree is a tear of a ligament, which is usually followed by pain or swelling.
- The third degree is a complete rupture.
- The fourth degree is the most severe and actually breaks the ligament, along with some small bones if severe enough, and requires surgery to repair.
Signs and symptoms
The typical signs and symptoms associated with a sprain are the cardinal signs of a sprain.
Although any joint can experience a sprain, some of the more common include:
Sprains can best be prevented by proper use of safety equipment (wrist, ankle guards), warm-ups
), being aware of your surroundings and maintaining strength and flexibility. Physical conditioning is the best way to avoid or lessen the degree of sprains.
The first modality for a sprain can be remembered using the acronym R.I.C.E.
- Rest: The sprain should be rested. No additional force should be applied on site of the sprain. If, for example, the sprain were an ankle sprain, then walking should be kept to a minimum.
- Ice: Ice should be applied immediately to the sprain to minimize swelling and ease pain. It can be applied for 20-30 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day. Ice can be combined with a wrapping to minimize swelling and provide support.
- Compression: Dressings, bandages, or ace-wraps should be used to immobilize the sprain and provide support.
- Elevation: Keeping the sprained joint elevated above heart level will also help to minimize swelling.
Ice and compression (cold compression therapy) will not completely stop swelling and pain, but will help to minimize them as the sprain begins to heal itself. Careful management of swelling is critical to the healing process as additional fluid may pool in the sprained area.