A sprain is an injury to the ligaments in a joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another to form the joints. When a ligament is injured, it can be stretched, partially torn, or completely torn.
What is the cause?
Sprains are usually caused by a sudden activity that twists, tears, or stretches a ligament, like a fall or something hitting you.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
Swelling and bruising over or near a joint
Trouble moving the injured joint
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays or other scans.
How is it treated?
You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until the ligament has healed.
Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help you heal. A splint, brace, or sling can help keep the injured area from moving while it heals.
If the sprain is severe, you may need surgery to repair or rebuild torn ligaments.
The pain often gets better within a few weeks with self-care, but some injuries may take several months or longer to heal. Itâ€™s important to follow all of your healthcare providerâ€™s instructions.
How can I take care of myself?
To reduce swelling and pain for the first few days after the injury:
Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Keep the injured part of your body up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Putting an NSAID gel on your skin can decrease pain, with fewer side effects than pills taken by mouth. Ask your healthcare provider if a prescription is right for you.
Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you donâ€™t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
How can I help prevent a sprain?
Most sprains happen from accidents that cannot be prevented. However, warm-up exercises and stretching before activities can help prevent injuries.
Follow safety rules and use any protective equipment recommended for your work or sport.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-10-21 Last reviewed: 2014-09-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Sprain: Teen Version: References
Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010 Jun 16;(6):CD007402.
Brotzman SB, and RC Manske. Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, An Evidence-Based Approach, Third Edition, Elsevier, 2011.
Busconi, B. D., and Stevenson, J. H., Sports Medicine Consult, Lippincott 2009.
Sarwark, John. Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2010.