A sprain (from Middle French espraindre – to wring) is an injury to ligaments that is caused by being stretched beyond their normal capacity and possibly torn. A muscular tear caused in the same manner is referred to as a strain. In cases where either ligament or muscle tissue is torn, immobilization and surgical repair may be necessary.
Although some signs and symptoms can be used to assess the severity of a sprain, the most definitive method is with the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Sprains are graded in six degrees.
The typical signs and symptoms associated with a sprain are the cardinal signs of a sprain.
Although any joint can experience a sprain, some of the more common include:
The first modality for a sprain can be remembered using the acronym R.I.C.E.
Ice and compression (cold compression therapy) will not completely stop swelling and pain, but will help to minimize them as the sprain begins to heal itself. Careful management of swelling is critical to the healing process as additional fluid may pool in the sprained area.
The joint should be exercised again fairly soon, in milder cases from 1 to 3 days after injury. Special exercises are sometimes needed in order to regain strength and help reduce the risk of ongoing problems. The ankle may need to be supported by taping or bracing, helping protect it from reinjury.
Sprains can best be prevented by proper use of safety equipment (wrist, ankle guards; carts vs. lifting), warm-ups and cool-downs (including stretching), being aware of surroundings and maintaining strength and flexibility. Physical conditioning is the best way to avoid or lessen the degree of sprains.
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