Sprain

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

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