A sprain is stretching or tearing of a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other. Sprains are more common in the ankle, knee, thumb or finger joints, and the shoulder.
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A sprain is when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart. If the force is strong enough, the ligament comes apart. This can happen from things like:
- A sudden change in direction
- An impact with an object or another person
- A misstep that causes a sudden strain at a joint
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Muscle weakness
- Poor flexibility
- Coordination and balance problems
- Playing sports, such as basketball, football, skiing, and gymnastics
Problems may be:
- Pain and tenderness, especially putting weight on the joint
- Swelling and bruising
- Problems moving
- A popping sound
The doctor will ask about symptoms, past health, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis can often be made from the exam. X-rays or MRI scan may be done if the sprain is severe and there may be damage to the bone.
Treatment will depend on the joint and how severe the injury is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:
- Supportive care, such as rest, ice, a compression bandage, and raising the area to ease pain and swelling
- Medicine, such as over the counter and prescription pain relievers
- Devices that keep the area still as it heals
- Physical therapy to strengthen the area and improve movement
Most sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:
- Using the right safety gear and techniques when playing sports
- Stretching and strengthening the ligaments that support joints
American College of Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Ankle sprain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ankle-sprain. October 12, 2020.
Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Sprained ankle. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00150. October 12, 2020.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT Last Updated: 6/8/2021