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What To Do (And Not Do) When You Suffer A Sprain

We have all suffered sprains or ankle cramps at some point in our lives. It’s a condition that, although painful, is also easily treatable. However, we often ignore the first and most important stage of treatment, which can actually be the key to long-term recovery. For most of us, this is because we are unaware or uninformed about sprains, their treatment, and the proper recovery process.

  • What is a sprain?
  • How should you treat a sprain?
  • What causes an ankle or wrist sprain?

So many questions, so little time. No worries, however. We have everything you need to know about sprains covered below. Read on to find out about what we refer to as the “sprained truth.”

What is a Sprain?

A Sprain occurs due to a direct or sudden injury to our joints. It usually causes ligament stretches 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 of The Body 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 inward during a run, jump, or similar activity.
  • Sprained Knee or MCL Sprain: This type of sprain happens when you sustain a blow to your knee due to a direct impact or fall.
  • Sprained Wrist: Such a sprain takes place when you sustain a fall or impact that has an immediate effect on your wrist.

How Do Sprains Occur?

Sprains can occur due to a direct injury through playing sports, an accidental fall, or even a car accident.

The Following May Also Cause Sprains:

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

What Are Common Symptoms or Signs of a Sprain?

A sprain is often followed by intense pain and discomfort. Extreme conditions can also lead to the inability of one’s leg or arm to achieve movement. Apart from this, you can also experience the following symptoms during a sprain:

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

If you have a mild sprain, you might experience stiffness while walking, but patients typically recover within a few days. However, in the case of a severe injury, you might experience an altered or failed limb movement for a prolonged period.

Diagnosing Sprains

Whether you sustain a minor sprain or something more severe, you should visit your doctor immediately after the incident. She or he will ask you a few preliminary questions such as:

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

Your doctor will then proceed with the next step of checking your joint movement and reflexes. If your physician is unsure of the cause, or your case requires further evaluation, she or he will likely recommend you undergo a few standard radiological tests. Such tests can include:

  • X-RAY, CT Scan or MRI Scans: These radiological imaging tests can help in determining the cause of your sprain. A contrast scan helps produce a clear and high-quality image of the injured region. However, in the case of an MRI scan with contrast, you should inform your healthcare provider if you have a history of any allergies to dye/contrast, or if you have any metallic devices implanted in your body.
  • Arthroscopy: This procedure is used to evaluate joints. A tiny incision to the injured area is part of the process. A scope is then inserted to view the actual ligament and check exactly where the tear or pull occurred.

Treatment for Sprains

Treatment for a sprain depends on the condition and severity of the injured ligament. Part of your recovery process might involve the following:

  • Support Devices: You might be advised to wear elastic bandages, splints, braces, casts, or use crutches to keep weight off of the injured part of your body
  • Pain medication: Consumption of such medicine may be prescribed by your physician.
  • NSAIDs:Nonsteroidal anti-Inflammatory drugs like oxaprozin, aspirin, and ibuprofen can aid in the reduction of joint inflammation. These are all over-the-counter medicines, but require supervised consumption.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy helps in improving muscle movement and strength, while decreasing pain.
  • Surgery:Surgery is typically used only as a last resort for treating a sprain. Whether or not surgery is prescribed is based on the severity of your conditions.
SeverityDamageSymptomsRecovery Time
Grade 1Minimal stretching, no tearingMild pain, swelling, no bruising. No difficulty in bearing weight1-3 weeks
Grade 2Partial tearModerate pain, possible bruising, some loss of movement. Pain in bearing weight.3-6 weeks
Grade 3Full tearSevere 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 two weeks to one year to heal.

Depending on the specific ligament torn, there are four types of knee sprains:

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

Additionally, there are three associated grades of injuries that might occur:

  • Grade I (mild) - 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.

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 sprains are 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 the joint, loss of function, a completely torn ligament

The healing period for wrist sprains varies from patient-to-patient. The average time required to recover will depend on the grade of the sprain.

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

What NOT To Do When You Have a Sprain

Whether it’s a sprained ankle, knee, or wrist, taking proper steps to make sure that the healing process is actively progressing is one of the most important things you can do to help speed up your recovery time. During your recovery, there are a few activities you should avoid:

  • Avoid Sudden Movement:

    Athletes, parents, and children alike often try to ‘shake off’ or ‘toughen up’ when an injury occurs. However, this is never a good idea following a sprain. Failing to rest the joint, or adding more pressure, can not only prolong the injury but also increase the tear of the ligament.

  • Avoid Overconsumption of Medicine:

    Many of us tend to consume painkillers after a fall or injury for instant pain relief. Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen may help reduce swelling and pain from a sprain, but NSAIDs can also cause side effects. Overmedicating can also dull the pain, potentially masking the injury and aggravating the situation.

  • Continue The Observation After The Recovery:

    In most cases, a sprained joint is a one-time event. However, after sustaining an initial injury, you may be a higher risk for re-injury if proper precautions are not taken. This 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 a healthy weight according to your physician
  • Exercise daily
  • Make sure you have the right physical condition for the sport you are playing
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes
  • Try to exercise or play sports when you are alert
  • Take measures to prevent falls
  • Always warm-up or stretch before taking part in any sports or activities

Injuring your ankle or wrist can be a painful and inconvenient experience to endure. Accessing the best information and resources for an accurate diagnosis through Expert MRI will help in the recovery process.