Sprains are injuries to the tough ropelike fibers (ligaments) that connect bone to bone. If you have a severe sprain, your symptoms may not be much different from those you would have with a broken bone. Health professionals rank sprains by degree of severity.

A first-degree sprain stretches the ligaments but does not tear them. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Mild to moderate swelling and pain.
  • A stable joint that does not feel loose or wobbly.
  • Normal movement.

A second-degree sprain partially tears the ligaments. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • A pop or snap felt or heard at the time of the injury.
  • Moderate to severe pain and swelling.
  • Restricted movement.
  • Bruising.
  • Mild to moderate instability.

A third-degree sprain completely tears the ligaments. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • A pop or snap felt or heard at the time of the injury.
  • Mild to severe pain (pain is sometimes less in a complete tear than in a partial tear).
  • Severe swelling and bruising (often, but not always).
  • An unstable joint (feels wobbly or loose).
  • A grating sound or feeling.
  • A bulge (sometimes) at the site of a complete tear.
  • A change in sensation, such as numbness or tingling.

Recovery time for a sprain can vary, depending on a person's age and health and the severity of the sprain. A minor sprain in a healthy person may heal in a few days to a few weeks. A severe sprain can take several months to heal and may never heal completely, resulting in long-term pain, limited movement, deformity and instability of the joint, and repeated injuries.

First aid for a sprain includes rest (immobilization), ice, compression, and elevation. While a minor sprain will often heal well with home treatment, a moderate to severe sprain may require medical treatment, such as a cast or splint, physical therapy, medication, or surgery.

Last Updated: October 27, 2008

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Gavin W.G. Chalmers, DPM - Podiatry and Podiatric Surgery

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.