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Sprains are injuries to ligaments. Ligaments are the material that ties bones together. Sprains happen when the joints are pushed out of normal position by some force. The ligaments are stretched or even torn.
The place where sprains happen the most is the ankle. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) calls ankle sprains the most common injury in the United States each year. (Read about "Feet, Ankles and Legs") In fact, NIAMS says that 85 percent of the one million ankle injuries each year are sprains. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) says that it is the ligaments on the outside of the ankle that usually get injured. It happens when someone steps or lands on the outside of the foot.
Although the ankle is the prime candidate for a sprain, it's not the only body part at risk. The knee ligaments (Read about "The Knee") can also be injured from a blow to the knee or a fall or twist. The wrist too is a prime location for a sprain, usually from a fall when people land on the wrist.
There are three levels of sprains. Level one sprains are considered slight. The ligaments are stretched but the joint remains stable, according to NIAMS. Bruising is minimal and a person can still put weight on the injured area.
A level two sprain results in some tearing of the ligament. There is swelling and bruising in the area. The injury is painful and there is a loss of ability to use the joint because of pain and stiffness.
Level three sprains are when the ligament is totally torn or ruptured. A person can't put any weight on the joint and there is pronounced swelling and bruising.
Immediate treatment for a sprain is RICE. After checking with your doctor, treatment for minor sprains can often be accomplished at home using the RICE method, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). The goal of the treatment is to reduce swelling and pain. RICE treatment, according to NIAMS and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) consists of:
For level one sprains, your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter or even prescription anti-inflammatories to help you manage the swelling and the pain. (Read about "Medicine Safety")
Level two or three sprains require the attention of a doctor to make sure there aren't other injuries, such as broken bones. (Read about "Bone Fractures") NIAMS recommends you see a doctor if you have any of the following:
An x-ray can help the doctor decide if there are injuries beyond the sprain. (Read about "X-rays")
Serious sprains can require surgery and immobilization with a cast or other device. After the swelling starts to go down, your doctor can recommend exercises to help you recover. (Read about "Rehabilitation") You may also be referred to a physical therapist to help you. The goal of your therapy will be to restore strength and flexibility. Depending on your age and health, healing and recovering from a sprain can take up to a year. ACEP says that sprains usually take longer to heal than a broken bone.
Prevention starts long before an injury occurs. A healthy diet and exercise program, in consultation with your doctor, can strengthen your muscles, tendons and ligaments so they are less likely to be injured. (Read about "Getting Started on Fitness") NIAMS lists some other things such as:
Sprains happen even if you take every precaution but with a little care, they can be less severe and not turn into chronic problems.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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