What is a Sprain?

By: Drew Heideman PT, ATC

What is a Sprain?

The quick answer is that a sprain is an abnormal stretching or tearing of a ligament or ligaments. Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones in a joint. Although sprain is commonly confused with the term strain, this is actually incorrect. 

Strains refer to injuries of tendons, the elastic tissue that attaches muscles to bones. Both sprains and strains are relatively common injuries that affect everyone from professional athletes to weekend warriors. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries known. A sprain is not just limited to the ankle joint; a sprain can occur in any joint that sustains stress. You can get a sprained foot, shoulder, wrist, or knee. Ligament sprains can be broken down into three categories:

  • Grade 1: The ligament is stretched, but not torn.
  • Grade 2: The ligament is partially torn.
  • Grade 3: The ligament is completely torn or ruptured.

A sprain is different than a strain. A strain a stretching or tearing that occurs in muscles or tendons. 

A sprain is damage or a tear in a ligament.What is a sprain

What Causes a Sprain?

Sprains can occur for many reasons. A sprain usually comes from forceful overstretching of a joint. This can include:

  • Walking or exercising on an uneven surface.
  • Falling on an outstretched hand.
  • Planting the foot and pivoting during activity.
  • Hyperextension. 
  • A quick deceleration of movement.

Certain factors may also contribute to an increased risk of injury in individuals. These can include:  

  • Not warming up: Stretching and other warming exercises increase motion.  This can help protect against injury.
  • Not checking the weather: Rain, sleet, or snow may make surfaces slippery or uneven, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Fatigue: Tired muscles provide less support for your joints; mentally, a lack of concentration may make it more likely for you to get injured

What Are The Signs And Symptoms of a Sprain?

Grade 1:

  • Soreness in the joint.
  • Limited movement.
  • Possible bruising.
  • Minimal swelling.

Grade 2:

  • Pain.
  • Increase pain with weight-bearing.
  • Bruising.
  • Swelling.

Grade 3:

  • Pain.
  • Lack of mobility.
  • Bruising.
  • Significant swelling.
  • A “pop” or “snap” may be heard or felt at the time of injury.

How Do You Know if You Have a Sprain?

Diagnosis of a sprain can typically be determined by taking a history of the injury. Your MD may ask you questions about how the injury occurred. Depending on the situation and severity, an x-ray or MRI may be taken to confirm the diagnosis or to rule out other injuries. The sprain will then be graded on how much damage has occurred to the ligament.

How Do You Fix a Sprain? 

  • A grade 1 or 2 sprain may resolve itself with time.  Physical therapy may be required depending on injury location. 
  • Grade 3 sprains may require surgical intervention followed by physical therapy for full recovery. 
  • NSAIDs: (Anti-inflammatory medications) may be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation in the area.
  • RICE: (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is key to initial treatment.

How Do You Avoid A Sprain?

Taping and bracing can be used to help add additional support to any given joint. However, these solutions may be temporary. It is important that any individual not become dependent on the assistance for more effective, permanent results.   

Doing Strength and balance exercises can help you to adapt while exercising.  This can help prevent sprains.

The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute is here to help you if you have a sprain or any other injury.  JOI is taking precautions to keep you safe during COVID-19.  Go HERE to learn more.

If you or a loved one think you may have a sprain, call JOI-2000 to schedule an appointment or click the link below. 



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