A sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments. Ligaments are found at joints and connect two bones together. A sprain normally occurs when a severe force is made to the ankle, damaging the ligaments. The lateral ligaments on the outer ankle are the most commonly sprained and often occurs when the ankle rolls outwards.
What are the Symptoms?
- Pain, usually resulting from a sudden force or twisting motion.
- Swelling around the injured area which usually appears quite quickly.
- More severe injuries may result in bruising.
- The ligament itself will usually be tender to touch.
- It may be difficult to fully move the joint.
- More severe injuries may also cause instability in the joint.
How do Sprains Occur?
Ligaments are commonly injured when a force is applied to the joint, or to one of the bones which form the joint. The most common sprains include the lateral ankle and the MCL of the knee. A 'sprain' shouldn't be confused with a 'strain' which is a muscular injury.
The following are ligaments which are commonly sprained:
- Ankle - Lateral (inversion) sprain
- Ankle - Medial (eversion) sprain
- Knee - Medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain
- Elbow - Medial collateral ligament sprain
- Shoulder - Acromioclavicular ligament
- Hand - Sprained thumb
How are Sprains Classified?
Sprains can occur in varying degrees of severity, from just a minor stretching of the ligament to a full rupture (complete tear). They are graded as such, from grade 1 to 3.
- A grade 1 sprain is a stretching of the ligament, possibly with minor tearing.
- A grade 2 sprain is more severe, where up to 90% of the ligaments fibres are torn.
- A grade 3 sprain is a full rupture of the ligament.
How Should a Sprain be Treated?
Treatment of a sprain should initially involve rest, cold therapy, compression, and elevation. This will help to prevent further damage and to reduce bleeding and swelling.
Further treatment will depend on the extent of the injury. Exercises should be performed as soon as possible to help maintain mobility and then to re-build strength and balance. In minor injuries, this may be possible within 2 days of injury with a return to the sport in 1-2 weeks. Grade 2 and three injuries will require longer to heal.
If there is any doubt at all, an X-ray should be sought to check that there are no associated fractures. These are common ankle injuries especially.
A sports injury specialist should be consulted for moderate to major sprains. They will be able to fully assess the injury and then provide the appropriate treatment to help you get back to the sport as soon as possible. This may include: