What are Sprains?
A ligament is a thick, tough, fibrous tissue that connects bones together and when a ligament becomes injured, it results in a sprain. The three areas of the body most prone to common sprains are: the ankle, the knee, and the wrist.
Ligaments allow us to move various parts of our body and keep our skeleton in alignment. Ligaments stretch daily (kind of like elastic bands) yet, when we fall, or make a movements that over-stretch the ligament, they can become torn – resulting in a painful sprain.
A strain, on the other hand, is an injury to a muscle or tendon.
The most common sprain is the ‘twisted ankle’ – (understandably so, as we spend most of our lives upright, with all of our body weight on our feet and ankles!). Activities such as running, hiking, and basketball can also lead to a sprained ankle.
Most commonly the foot is rolled to the inside, stretching the ligaments too far on the outside (called the talofibular and calcaenofibular ligaments). Other sports such as gymnastics and volleyball call also lead to sprains. Sprains are not limited to the ankles and may affect a finger, the wrist, the knee, back, neck, groin and hamstring (thigh).
Sprains are categorized depending on the severity of the injury. Grade I and Grade II ankle sprains can usually be treated relatively easily with ice and physical therapy. Grade III ankle sprains can lead to a weakened ankle, and an operation may be a necessary part of treatment.
Treatment of a sprain is often includes the "RICE" method:
The first two days after a sprain are important – rest is imperative to allow the ligaments to heal. Try using a splint, sling, or crutches to help take the pressure off the injured body part.
For the first 2 days after your injury, ice the sprain for 20 minutes at a time every 3-4 hours. The ice pack can be a bag of frozen vegetables (peas or corn) or fill paper cups with water then freeze the cup. Do NOT ice a sprain for more than 20 minutes at a time – you will not be helping heal the injury any faster, and you can cause damage to the tissues!
Use compression when elevating a sprain in early treatment. Use a stretch-bandage with grip, but a lot of ‘give’, and wrap the area overlapping the elastic wrap by one-half of the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug, but not cutting off circulation to the extremity. So, if your fingers or toes become cold, blue, or tingle, re-wrap!
Keep your sprain off the floor and try to get it higher than your heart if possible. Elevate at night by placing pillows under your arm or leg.