Sprains: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

What is a Sprain?

A sprain is a stretching or tearing injury of ligaments, which are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints.  The ligaments provide support and stability to the joint. When you have a sprain, it directly impacts the joint involved and you may have one or more ligaments injured.

A sprain can happen when you twist or turn your joint too far and injured your ligament. The most common site for a sprain is in your ankle.

A sprain can be mild (a slight tear in the ligament) or severe (a complete tear in the ligament). The severity of a sprain depends on how much damage has been done to the ligament.

People often get these injuries during sports or any hard activities such as gymming or exercising. But sometimes even the activities of day-to-day life can also cause these injuries.

Sometimes it can be treated at home whereas there are times when a sprain requires surgery. In this article, we will be sharing every single piece of information about sprain including its types, causes, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, risk factors, prevention, etc.

Types of Sprains; or Where do sprains occur?

Sprains can possibly occur at any joint of the body. But we are discussing here the most usual spots where the sprains occur more often.

On this basis, the types of sprains are:

Ankle Sprain

As the name suggests, this sprain occurs at the ankles. It usually occurs when the person’s foot turns inward as you run, turn or land on the ankle after a jump.

Knee Sprain

As the name suggests this sprain occurs at the knees. It usually occurs after a fall as well as a blow to the knee. In such cases, the sudden twisting of the knee may cause a sprain.

Wrist Sprain

As the name suggests, this sprain occurs at the wrist. It usually occurs when a person falls and lands on an outstretched hand.

Thumb Sprain

Overextension when playing racquet sports, like tennis or skiing injury can cause a thumb sprain.

Grades of Sprain

The criticality of the sprain can range from minor to severe.

Based on the amount of damage, your doctor likely will put your sprain at one of three grades:

First-degree sprainSecond-degree sprainThird-degree sprain
The Benign form of the sprain.It is a moderate form of sprain. Occurs when one or more ligaments have been damaged.It is a severe form of sprain. Occurs when the ligaments have torn.
Slight stretching.Partial tearing of the ligament.Complete tear of the ligament.
Minimal tissue damage.More swelling and bruising.Very painful and accompanied by a popping sound. It also may lead to bruising, swelling, and inability to bear weight on foot.
Quick recovery time. It can be treated at home by staying off the foot, icing it, and elevating it.Require additional time for healing. There might be a need for a physician’s consultation for therapy and treatment.A visit to your doctor is required and there might be a need for bracing or casting.
Most of the time, this type of sprain recovers in less than 1 week of time.The complete healing process required 2 to 6 weeks of time.To recover fully, it might need 6 to 12 weeks of time.
Grades Of Sprain

What Are The Causes of Sprains?

A sprain occurs by either a direct or indirect trauma that hits your joint out of position and overstretches, occasionally tearing the supporting ligaments.

Some of the circumstances that can cause sprain are as follows:

Thumb Sprain: Overextension while playing racket sport such as badminton etc. or skiing injury.

Wrist Sprain: When a person falls down with an outstretched hand.

Knee Sprain: Pivoting while doing an athletic activity.

Ankle Sprain: Landing uneasily from a jump and walking, jogging, or exercising on a bumpy place.

On the other hand, children are more likely to experience a fracture than a sprain as they have areas of softer tissue (known as growth plates) near the ends of their bones and the ligaments around a joint are usually stronger than these growth plates.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sprain?

The signs and symptoms of the sprain can be different on the basis of its severity. Also, the symptoms get more severe in case of more activity and less rest.

Here, let’s have a look at the symptoms that a sprain shows in a person:

1) Pain

2) Bruising

3) Swelling (indicating underlying inflammation in the joint or in the soft tissue surrounding the joint)

4) Limited ability to move and use the affected joint

5) Hearing or feeling a “pop” in your joint at the time of injury

6) Instability (mainly on weight-bearing joints like the knee or ankle)

7) Tenderness when pressure is applied to the injured area

What is the Treatment of a Sprain?

The treatment of sprain depends on its severity level. The first 1 to 2 days i.e. 24 to 48 hours are very crucial for the treatment of Sprain. And for this, your healthcare provider will advise you to follow the P.R.I.C.E. approach which means protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Now, let’s understand each of the terms of P.R.I.C.E. in detail.


Protection is the best remedy. Try to protect the area of concern from further movement and avoid putting stress or weight on it. You may be suggested by your health care provider to use a brace/splint or crutches to stay off the injured area.


Take more and more rest. Avoid physical activities that can cause discomfort, swelling, or pain, and let the area heal. But do not put the body wholly at rest; a little activity is always beneficial.


Put ice on the affected area immediately. For this, you can use a slush bath of ice and water, an ice pack, or a plastic bag filled with ice wrapped in a towel for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. You can repeat the process every 2 to 3 hours for the first few days after you get the injury.

To avoid cold injury and frostbite, do not apply the ice for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Once you have started to feel numb or uncomfortable, you should stop icing.


Compress the affected area using an elastic bandage in order to reduce the swelling. Avoid wrapping it too tightly to prevent affecting the circulation. Remember to start wrapping the bandage from the end farthest from your heart.

Remove or loose down the wrap in case you are feeling:

  • Swelling below the wrapped area.
  • Numbness in the area.
  • Increase in the pain.


Elevating the affected area above the level of the heart, especially while sleeping, will allow gravity to help reduce swelling.

Some medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, diclofenac, or any other drug suggested by your health care provider are used to reduce the pain.

Slowly and gently start using the affected area after the first 2 days. You will start seeing improvement after this. But the complete recovery process takes days to months of time depending on the severity of the injury.

Your doctor can help you to maximize the strength and stability of the injured joint. The doctor may suggest you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, like in the case of a torn ligament, surgery may be needed.

How to Diagnose a Sprain?

There are 2 important approaches used for the diagnosis of the sprain and which include:

1) Physical Exam

In this approach, your doctor will take a history and do a physical exam to see whether the history and exam are consistent with an injury to the joint which could have injured one or more ligaments. They would deeply examine the affected area for any tenderness, swelling, etc. Here, the health care provider will determine the nature and extent of the damage on the basis of the intensity and location of the pain.

2) Imaging Tests

In this approach, the Sports medicine specialist or an Orthopaedic will start with an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a broken bone. However, a ligament cannot be seen on an X-ray, but it helps to rule out a fracture and to look at the spacing of the joint. Sometimes, MRI or ultrasound is also used to determine the extent of the injury.

What are the Risk Factors For Sprains?

Unlike other diseases or illnesses, a sprain is not necessarily limited to any fixed age group or gender. Anyone can get this injury at any time in life. Children, adults, and old age people, all are at similar risk of sprain.

However, the following factors increase the risk of sprains:

1) Fatigue

 If you are fatigued, then your tired muscles are less likely to provide good support to your joints.

2) Environmental Conditions

 If you do your physical activities on slippery or uneven surfaces, these surfaces can make you more prone to injury.

3) Poor Equipment     

Ill-fitting footwear or poorly maintained sporting equipment can also increase your risk of a sprain.

4) Obesity or Poor Physical Condition

If you are obese or are in poor physical condition, then your risk of a sprain increases.

Prevention of Sprains

Sprains can occur to anyone at any time of life, but there are some ways with which you can prevent its risk to some extent.

Below here are some tips for the prevention of sprain:

  • Avoid doing the tough physical or sports activity in which you are not trained.
  • Make sure to stretch and warm up before any sport or physical activity.
  • Do not wear high-heeled shoes or sandals, if you are not comfortable.
  • Always wear shoes that properly fit your feet.
  • Make sure to wear protective footwear during any physical or sports activity.
  • Daily stretching exercises are helpful to maintain bone balance and strength.
  • To prevent falling, make sure to practice safety measures.
  • Maintaining a well-balanced diet and healthy weight will help keep and maintain muscle strength.
  • If you are tired or have pain, do not exercise or play sports.

When to See the Doctor for a Sprain?

The mild sprains get healed on their own with time and do not require any medical emergency. You can treat mild sprains at home only. But, there are some conditions when you might need to visit the doctor immediately to get surety about the intensity of the damage.

Such conditions include:

  • Redness, pain, or swelling over a bony part of your foot.
  • Having an injury in the same area again and again.
  • The red streaks or redness is spreading out from the affected area this might be a symptom of infection.
  • If you feel numbness in any part of the affected area.
  • Finding difficulty in moving the affected joint.
  • You find asymmetry between affected and normal joints, or the affected area has bumps and lumps (which is not swelling), or appears crooked.
  • Having severe pain and not being able to put weight on the injured joint.
  • You are concerned about your injury.

Hope you might have gained all the knowledge when it comes to sprain. I tried sharing each and every fact in detail, so as to keep you informed and attentive. Moreover, it is always advised to visit your health care provider to get more surety about any illness or disease.


Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. Any information associated with this article should not be considered as a substitute for prescriptions suggested by local health care professionals.


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