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What to Do (and Not Do) When You Get A Sprain

We have had sprains or ankle cramps at some point in our lives. It’s painful, to say the least but treatable at the same time. However, we ignore the first stage of treatment, which is key to its long-term recovery process. And it is because most of us are unaware or uninformed about sprains, their treatment, and recovery process.

What is a sprain? How can we treat a strain? What causes an ankle or wrist sprain? So many questions, so little time. But we’ve got it all covered here. 

Read on to find out the ‘sprained truth’: 

What is a Sprain?

A Sprain occurs due to a direct or sudden injury to our joints. It usually causes ligament stretch or tears.

Ligaments are tight tissues that connect bones. They help us to lift, move, or rotate our arms and legs.

A sprain injury may involve more than one ligament tear or strain at the same time.

Which areas are most at-risk for sprains?

Sprains occur in both the lower and upper parts of our body. However, the three most common at-risk areas are:

  • Ankle: An ankle sprain occurs when the foot turns inwards during a run, jump or similar activity
  • Sprained Knee or MCL Sprain: It happens when you receive a blow to your knee due to a direct impact of a fall on the region
  • Sprained Wrist: It takes place when you take a fall with an immediate effect on your wrist

How do Sprains transpire?

Sprains are due to a direct injury while playing sports, accidental fall or a car accident.

The following reasons may also cause a sprain:

  • Muscle Fatigue or overuse of a particular muscle
  • A sudden increase in the intensity of training
  • Wearing a pair of wrong fitting shoes
  • Obesity
  • Incorrect use of sports or gym equipment

What are the symptoms or signs of a Sprain?

A sprain is followed by immense pain and discomfort. Extreme conditions also lead to the inability of our leg or arm movement. Apart from this, you can also experience the following symptoms:

  • Joint swelling or inflammation
  • Bruise
  • Joint numbness
  • Joint instability
  • Decreased range of motion

If you have a mild sprain, you might experience stiffness while walking. But it is recoverable within a few days. However, in case of a severe injury, you might experience an altered or failed limb movement for a prolonged period.

Diagnosing Sprains

Whether it is a minor sprain or a severe one, you should visit your doctor immediately. S/he will ask you a few preliminary questions:

  • What caused the injury?
  • When did it happen?
  • What were you doing when you sustained the injury?

Your doctor will proceed with the next step - which is - checking your joint movement and reflexes. If s/he is unsure of the cause or requires further evaluation, s/he will recommend you to get a few radiological tests done.

  • X-RAY, CT Scan or MRI: These radiological imaging tests help in determining the cause of your sprain. A contrast scan helps produce a clearer and high-quality image of the injured region. However, in the case of MRI with contrast, you should inform your healthcare provider if you are allergic to the contrast dye or not, or you have any metallic implant in your body.
  • Arthroscopy: It is a procedure to evaluate joints. A tiny incision in the injured area follows the process. A scope is then inserted to see the actual ligament and check where exactly the tear or pull occurred.

Treatment for Sprains

Treatment for a sprain depends on the condition and severity of the injured ligament. You might have to use or undergo the following:

  • Support Devices: You might be recommended to wear elastic bandages, splints, braces, casts, or crutches to keep the weight off your the injured part of your body
  • Pain medication: Consumption of medicines prescribed by your physician.
  • NSAIDs:Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like oxaprozin, aspirin, and ibuprofen can aid in the reduction of joint inflammation. These are over the counter medicines but require supervised consumption only
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy helps in improving muscle movement, strength, and decreasing pain.
  • Surgery:Surgery is a last resort when it comes to treating a sprain. It is again based on the severity of your conditions.
Severity Damage Symptoms Recovery Time
Grade 1 Minimal stretching, no tearing Mild pain, swelling, no bruising, no difficulty in bearing weight 1-3 weeks
Grade 2 Partial tear Moderate pain, possible bruising, some loss of movement. Pain in bearing weight. 3-6 weeks
Grade 3 Full tear Severe pain, swelling and bruising. Unable to bear weight and loss of range of motion. Several months

How long does a Sprained Knee or MCL sprain take to heal?

Similar to a sprained ankle, a sprained knee or MCL sprain may take anywhere between 2 weeks to 1 year to heal.

There are four types of knee sprains depending on the specific ligament torn:

  • ACL Sprain
  • PCL Sprain
  • MCL Sprain
  • LCL Sprain

And there are three grades of injuries that might occur:

  • Grade I (mild) - where the Injury stretches the ligament, causing microscopic tears. These tears do not affect the ability of the joint to bear weight.
  • Grade II (moderate)- the ligament is partially torn, and there is some mild instability when it comes to standing or walking
  • Grade III (severe)- the ligament is torn entirely or separated at the end of the bone.

Depending on the kind of Injury and the Grade, an MCL or LCL sprain in Grade I or II can heal within 2-4 weeks, while any other type of knee sprain can take anywhere between 4-12 months.

How long does a Sprained Wrist take to heal?

Wrist Sprain is divided into three grades:

  • Grade I - Pain in the joint with minor damage to the ligament
  • Grade II - Pain, a feeling of looseness in the joint, loss of hand movement, more severe ligament damage
  • Grade III - Pain, severe looseness of joint, loss of function, a completely torn ligament.

The healing period varies from patient to patient. But the average time to recover depends on the grade of the sprain.

Grade I takes 2-4 weeks, while Grade III takes as long as 3-6 months to heal.

What NOT to do when you get a Sprain?

Whether its a sprained ankle, knee, or wrist, taking proper steps to make sure that the healing process is active, is one of the few things you can do to help speed up your recovery time-frame. But there are a few activities that you should avoid at all cost.

  • Avoid sudden movement:

    Athletes, parents, or children often try to ‘shake off’ or ‘toughen up’ when an injury occurs. But in this case, it is not a good idea. Instead of resting the joint, if you put more pressure on it, then it might not only prolong the injury but also increase the tear of the ligament.

  • Avoid overconsumption of medicine:

    Many of us tend to pop in painkillers after a fall or injury for instant pain relief. Taking a Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug like aspirin or ibuprofen may help reduce the swelling and the pain, but can also cause side-effects.

    Overmedicating can also dull the pain to the extent of masking the injury and aggravating the situation.

  • Continue the observation after the recovery:

    In most cases, a sprained joint is a one-time event. But after sustaining an actual injury, there is a higher risk for re-injury if proper precautions are not taken. It is especially true for athletes or active people who exercise regularly and push their bodies to the limit.

How to avoid getting Sprains?

  • Run-on flat surfaces
  • Wear protective gear while playing sports
  • Eat healthy food to keep muscles strong
  • Maintain weight according to physician
  • Exercise daily
  • Make sure you have the right physical condition for the sport you are playing
  • Wear the right fitting shoes
  • Try to exercise or play sports when you are alert
  • Take measures to prevent falls
  • Warm-up or stretch before taking part in any sports or activities

Injuring your ankle or wrist is neither comfortable nor convenient. Accessing the right information and diagnosis will help in the recovery process.