Sprain is among the most common of injuries to occur during sports activities and daily routines. This injury most commonly involves the ankle, but the knee and wrist joints are also susceptible. Sprains are the result of a stretched or torn ligament, causing pain and impaired mobility. (A ligament is the connective tissue that binds two or more bones at a joint.) This often occurs when a joint deviates from its normal range of motion because of a sudden force, such as a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow to the body.
Symptoms and grades:
The severity of injury depends on the number of ligaments involved, and whether the tear is partial or complete. Sprains are categorized in three grades:
- GRADE 1 (mild): usually only slight symptoms.
- GRADE 2 (moderate): there will be bruising, pain, and swelling; an x-ray or MRI may be necessary to diagnose; the ligament is not fully torn, but the person will have difficulty putting weight on the joint.
- GRADE 3 (severe): symptoms are severe, as the ligament is totally ruptured or torn; there is loss of ability to use the joint.
What is the difference between sprain and strain?
While a sprain is caused because of injury to a ligament, a strain results when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn.
The most common types of sprains:
- ANKLE. Ankle sprain happens to 25,000 individuals in the U.S. every day, and occurs if the foot is planted awkwardly, the ground is uneven, or when an unusual force is applied to the joint.
- KNEE. Knee sprain is the second most common type of sprain, and usually results from a blow to the knee, a fall, or a sudden twist. Susceptible ligaments include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and medial cruciate ligament (MCL).
- WRIST. Wrist sprains most commonly occur when a person falls, and puts his or her hands out in front of the body to break the fall. The wrist maybe be bent backwards, resulting in a sprain.
Sprains can easily be prevented through the practice of simple habits and preparedness:
- Don't push past fatigue when playing sports.
- Maintain a healthy diet for strong muscles.
- Keep stairways clear and use ice or salt on icy patches to prevent falls.
- Be sure that athletic shoes fit well and have good tread on the bottom.
- Warm up before activity and cool down afterward.
- Wear protective equipment in sports.
Treatment of sprains depends on the severity of the sprain; however, most mild and moderate sprains can be successfully treated at home. For the first 24 to 48 hours, follow the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) method to speed healing:
- REST. Try to avoid using the injured joint; use crutches or a cane for ankle sprain.
- ICE. Aim for 20 minutes, 4 to 8 times a day. Use a cold pack or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a towel. Do not ice for longer than 20 minutes, or frostbite may result.
- COMPRESSION. The use of elastic bandages, splints, and air casts can provide compression to reduce swelling.
- ELEVATE. Prop joint on a pillow, higher than heart level.